31 October 2011

Romania: On the trail of Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler

The romantic-sounding region of Transylvania, the eastern Carpathians and their neighbouring region of Moldova (though not the Republic of that name) all lie within one country – Romania. But as we spent a week travelling around this extended section of eastern Europe we felt that, although we might indeed be geographically within one country, we were in fact traversing three separate and quite distinct emotional and historical worlds.

The first world was one of Gothic fantasy. It is epitomised by Bran Castle, with its much-vaunted connections with Vlad the Impaler – better known as Count Dracula. Other castles crowd the hilltops with their turrets and dungeons, their armouries and torture chambers. This is a world in which Ludwig II – the mid-19th-century mad king of Bavaria – and Wagner would have felt at home.

The periodical rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning seem a natural backdrop to its dark coniferous forests, still alive with wolves and the occasional brown bear. Occasional encounters with light-fingered gipsy gangs lend a frisson of danger to the unwary traveller – as we were to discover during our travels. The swans on the moonlit lakes look as if they might at any moment transmogrify themselves into ballerinas in search of a lovelorn prince.

The second world is a more wholesome one of Saxon villages and simple peasant agriculture. Horse-drawn carts trundle slowly along the lanes; small old-fashioned haystacks line the fields and punctuate the horizons; smiling old men scythe in the fields and decoratively dressed women fork up the hay; poppies and other wild flowers enliven the meadows; wooden Saxon houses with their high gates and brightly coloured exteriors line the village streets; every telegraph pole seems to support a nesting crane newly arrived from Africa. This is the world beloved of Prince Charles, who has bought a manor house in the region. It is no longer Wagner's world, but rather that of The Sound of Music.

The third of the worlds through which we passed is a ghost world of the former Romania of Nicolae Ceausescu and the communist era. Much has been done in the past two decades to remove the ugly traces of that unhappy chapter in Transylvania's history. Hotels have had massive makeovers; no longer do they look as if they are awaiting party delegations, and are instead alive with young people dancing at wedding breakfasts; but still bath plugs tend to be absent and loo seats tend to be wobbly; credit card machines tend to be non-functional; and one is tempted to ask the occasional receptionist whether she got a refund from charm school.
Away from the hotels, too, there is indestructible evidence of the insensitive state planning of the Ceausescu years: tyre factories belching dark smoke have been dumped down in areas of outstanding natural beauty; a vast cement works intrudes on a spectacularly beautiful mountain gorge; in some places, ribbon development stretches along highways for mile after mile, blanketing the road from the glorious surrounding countryside. Old practices from the hard years die hard: it still seemed safer to our driver to fill up his car in a sizeable urban petrol station than risk the contamination of a wayside pump, and everywhere people were still smoking like chimneys.

My wife and I had made our plans carefully in advance, and were met at Bucharest airport by our guide, who was also the driver of the comfortable Mercedes that was to transport us for the following week around a route which dipped in and out of all the varied worlds described above. We set out northwards straight for the hills, our first night being at Sinaia (a town and monastery named after Mount Sinai by a returning pilgrim in the Middle Ages).

The next morning our first port of call was Peles Castle, a fairy-tale creation built as the summer residence of King Carol I in the late-19th century. Our arrival coincided with a rally of vintage cars which gave an agreeably Belle Époque atmosphere to the park and surroundings. Inside, the atmosphere was more military: vast arrays of armour and weapons adorned the walls, including an executioner's sword, the blade of which was inscribed "may God forgive the villain whose head this will sever".

Our next stop was Bran Castle, supposed abode of Prince Vlad Tepes – the prototype for the mythical Count Dracula. There is no doubt that Vlad was – even by the standards of the 15th century – an exceptionally cruel ruler, impaling rather than beheading his enemies, though not – like Dracula – drinking their blood. He was something of a hero in his time, as he led a stout resistance to the Turkish invaders. But it is the gruesome aspects of his legend which now haunt his castle: vampire masks, blood-red wine and wooden daggers jostle for prominence in the market below the castle.

Inside the castle, winding spiral staircases and low cavernous doorways increase the sense of menace. One feels one could drop into an oubliette and disappear forever at any moment. Our visit coincided here not with vintage cars but with a coachload of Romanian schoolgirls. This seemed to upset the castle guide, and when I asked him why, he said it meant he could not use the joke he liked to make to tourists: "Dracula only drinks the blood of young virgins: you will all be safe!" This lot, he said, were certainly young, and he hoped they were virgins.

We concluded our day at Brasov, visiting two churches. The Black Church – so called because it was burned and largely rebuilt in 1689 – houses one of the largest and finest organs (440 pipes) in Europe, and also a collection of Turkish rugs draped over pews and choir stalls as if for sale, but which were in fact permanent furnishings serving as a reminder of the intercourse with the Ottoman Empire. The painted pew fronts depict the role of the various civic guilds with whose wealth the church was built.

At our second church – that of St Nicholas – we were met by an elderly professor who took us to the library in the precincts, which contains a remarkable collection of early-Christian books and manuscripts. So sensitive were these in the Stalinist period (the town had been renamed after Stalin in the Fifties – a fact not often mentioned now) that the professor had hidden them away in the church tower to prevent their destruction. As he turned over the pages, he remarked wistfully how odd it was that Romania (an Orthodox country) had adopted the Latin/Roman rather than the Cyrillic script. I found myself wondering about the risks this dedicated scholar must have run in hiding away his precious Christian evidence from Stalin's henchmen.
Another day, another place. Sighisoara is a medieval fortress town which is now a Unesco world cultural heritage site. There is a bizarre legend that its Saxon inhabitants are descended from the children of Hamelin who were led away from home by the Pied Piper. Its charming square, with its brightly painted houses and welcoming cafés, is certainly part of that second world of gentle Saxon rural life. But it also turns out to have been the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, and its clock tower (another steep rickety climb) is flanked by a torture chamber displaying gruesome instruments of the trade: the world of Gothic horror is never far away.
Continuing our journey, we made a short diversion to a quintessentially Saxon village, where we were able to see Prince Charles's manor house overlooking as peaceful a scene as could be found anywhere in central or Eastern Europe. But again, the Gothic drama was not far below the surface: when we stopped for my wife to wander off alone to take a photograph of a passing hay wain, she was set upon by a group of gipsy lads, one of whom attempted to snatch her camera and push her into a ditch, while another waved a scythe menacingly; she extricated herself – scratched, bleeding and slightly disillusioned. It was as if the evil baron of Swan Lake had suddenly appeared on the set of The Sound of Music.

Sibiu, our next staging post, was declared the European capital of culture in 2007. Its labyrinth of medieval squares, churches, bridges and narrow streets seemed to justify the award. We were particularly careful how we answered questions while standing on the Liar's Bridge, since we were assured than any untruth uttered on the bridge would cause it to instantly collapse; in Transylvania it seemed unwise to disregard such superstitions.

In the nearby village of Sibiel, we visited a museum of icons painted on glass; despite their age, many of them were almost Picasso-like in their modernity, but all managed to convey a reverence for their sacred subjects. In the same village, we were invited to dinner in a Saxon house belonging to a friend of our guide, where a collection of meat balls were washed down with generous quantities of plum brandy.

From Sibiu to Bucovina, the region of the famous painted monasteries, was a long drive of some 300kms (186 miles) passing through the eastern Carpathians and the dramatic Bicaz Gorges and skirting the Lacu Rosu (or Red Lake). This was the scenery that most romantic visitors to Transylvania had been hoping to encounter: the dense pine forests sloping steeply into ravines bordering the road are – we were assured – still the habitat of wolf packs and brown bears of the sort that had chased Nicholas Crane when he walked through the region in the Nineties. If a comfort stop required a wander into the dark trees, we were careful not to go too far into this Wicked Wood.

The monasteries themselves, when we reached them, were worth every one of the 300kms. Voronet Monastery is known as the Sistine Chapel of the Orthodox Church on account of its spectacular ceiling and wall frescoes; but the exterior walls are also a visual delight of early 16th-century imagination. Not all the murals depict the normal biblical scenes; one, for instance, shows a line of Turkish dignitaries queuing up (like passengers at Heathrow) to be sent down to hell. This is not altogether surprising when it is remembered that the monastery was built by Prince Stephen the Great of Moldova (1457-1504), the renowned Hammer of the Turks. Moldovita Monastery was built by Stephen's son and – true to form – shows Turks decapitating lines of haloed Christian saints. At the Sucevita Monastery, a nun explained one of the murals to us; a child was being restored to her mother by St Nicholas; we asked innocently how he had come to be parted from her and the answer was predictable – kidnapped by the Turks. One is not allowed to forget that this was indeed the front line of Christendom for several centuries.

Surprisingly unsated by churches, castles, haystacks and forests, we eventually headed south to Bucharest airport and home. As we dozed off on the plane, we had gentle memories of a sunlit land of calm medieval pastures and homesteads; we had disturbing dreams of vampires looming down on us from crenellated ramparts; and we had a gratifying sense of having seen a land successfully lifting itself out of decades of communist drabness. But I'm not sure that if I had been leaving from London rather than Bucharest, my wooden Dracula dagger (for my grandson) might not have been confiscated as a threat to airline security.

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30 October 2011

North Texas draws religions from around the world

The Sikh temple on Euless Boulevard comes to life every Sunday morning. Men wearing turbans and women in colorful dress remove their shoes and wash their hands before entering the temple, which is in a former bank building. Once inside, they sit cross-legged on opposite sides of the main hall, singing hymns and praying in Panjabi, the native language of many of the members, who come from northwestern India and eastern Pakistan. After the service, plates are handed out for a communal vegetarian lunch. The temple is also open for daily prayer services, with members driving from Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas to participate.

Rajvir Singh of Arlington said it's important for his people to have a Sikh temple nearby. About 300 people regularly attend Sunday services at the temple, called Gurdwara Sikh Sangat.

"There is a plus if you have your community with you. You share the same culture. You share the same beliefs," said Singh, a biological chemistry student at the University of Texas at
Arlington. "It's just the same as why anybody would want to get together with their culture."

The Sikhs represent a growing change in the makeup of religious groups in the suburbs, especially Northeast Tarrant County, where Baptists, Methodists and Catholics are now joined by Buddhists, Hindus, Romanian Orthodox and Baha'i.

As people move into North Texas -- seeking jobs and a better education for their children -- it's only natural for them to open houses of worship and cultural centers to meet their spiritual needs. Changes to the religious landscape are particularly noticeable in Euless and Colleyville.

"What's driving this is you're getting folks who aren't from Texas who are capitalizing on the opportunity, and of course, we bring our faith with us," said Jason E. Shelton, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at UT Arlington. "This isn't anything different than what we saw in the 1880s. This is the same story."

Euless has a Coptic Christian church on Euless Main Street, and nearby is a Greek Orthodox congregation that is building a new church featuring Byzantine architecture.

Plans are also under way to build a Buddhist and Hindu cultural and spiritual center on a 4-acre tract along Euless Boulevard to serve the Nepali community. About 9,000 of the 54,700 residents of Euless were born outside the United States, and another 1,672 were born in a U.S. territory or born abroad to American parents. Of those, 36 percent were from Latin America, 32 percent from Asia and 18 percent from Africa. according to the 2009 American Community Survey.

Students in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) schools speak 72 languages at home, including Arabic,
Vietnamese and Urdu, the district's annual survey showed.

Neighboring Colleyville is a bit of an anomaly. There's a Romanian Orthodox Church, a mosque, a Catholic church, a synagogue, a Baha'i community, several protestant churches and more, all within the borders of this largely white, affluent city.

St. Mary's Romanian Orthodox Church launched 30 years ago in a small building that another Christian congregation used for services. It is unclear why the community settled there, but parish priest, The Reverend Gabriel Popa, speculates that the property was affordable for the group, mostly first-generation immigrants.

"Thirty years ago, it was a farm zone," he said.

In 2004, members bought a different piece of property and built a new church on Glade Road. The congregation has grown from 20 or 30 members to more than 300, although only a few live in Colleyville, with others driving as much as 50 miles to the church.

Colleyville is also the home of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, which hosts the offices of a bishop and serves 28 Coptic communities in 11 states. The Coptic Christian Church was established in Egypt, and many adherents are Egyptian immigrants, officials said. Locally, the Coptic Church launched in 1985 in Colleyville at St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. A handful of families had been renting spaces elsewhere and came together to buy 4 acres in Colleyville on John McCain Road. St. Mary Coptic opened a new 400-seat building at the same address in December.

"They wanted a place of their own," said The Reverend Samuel Bakhoum, the priest at St. Mary Coptic. "It's important to have a gathering space to socialize, for people to celebrate."

In 2004, another group from St. Mary found a church building for sale in Euless and branched off, creating St. Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church. The St. Abanoub congregation has surpassed that of St. Mary Coptic, with about 300 families, many of whom moved to Texas to be near relatives who had already immigrated.

Several of the Colleyville faiths came together for an interfaith National Day of Prayer event marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The North East Tarrant Interreligious Association hosted similar National Day of Prayer events in 2009 and 2010.

"Everybody prayed from their own perspective," said Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville. "The goal was for everyone to be able to say 'amen' to everything."
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28 October 2011

Entrance of the Theotokos

On Monday, November 21, Orthodox Christians celebrate one of the Church's twelve major feasts: The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. The historical events connected with this event form part of Sacred Tradition and are described in early extra-Scriptural documents and in the hymns of the Church.

According to these sources, when St. Mary was three years old her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna, the grandparents of Jesus, sent their daughter to the Temple in fulfillment of a promise made at the time of her conception, that she would be dedicated to the Lord. Joachim did not want Mary's departure to be a sad occasion. He, therefore, gathered together young girls from the neighborhood, gave them lit candles or lanterns, and Mary intrigued by the bright lights happily followed them to her new home. She was met at the Temple by St. Zacharias, the future father of St. John the Baptist. There she dwelt until her betrothal to St. Joseph.

The meaning of this feast can be derived from its title: Mary enters the Temple to become herself the Temple of God. She enters the Holy Place to become a "living" Holy of Holies. In her womb the Fashioner of all creation will be fashioned. He will take for Himself a complete humanity, our entire human substance, from Mary. Everything we are He will become, and the years spent in the Lord's House prepare the Virgin for her role as Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God. There she is nourished physically, mentally and spiritually, to become the flower of Old Testament piety. Indeed, Tradition relates that Mary was fed by messengers of God while in the Temple. Sometimes this pious belief is depicted artistically with Mary represented twice in the festal icon: once in the center, escorted by Joachim, Anna and the young maidens as she enters the Temple; and once in the top, right corner, seated "near the door of the Holy of Holies, where an angel comes to assist her" (The Meaning of Icons).

As the dwelling place of God, Mary typifies humanity. Her entering the Temple and later her conception of the Messiah, signals an end to a strict identification of God's House with any man-made structure. "Man" is now revealed as the true and proper dwelling place of the Almighty. According to ancient Christian Tradition, "we are all fashioned in God's image and likeness to be abodes of His presence".
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). 
"...the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands..." (Acts 7:48)
The emphasis on man as the abode of God is applied not only to the individual but to the entire people of God. The Church, for example, is spoken of by St. Paul as, "the fullness of Him Who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23), the fullness of God's life, revealed and shared with His followers. Mary's entrance into the Temple is thus an essential reminder and celebration of our own entrance into the Church, through baptism and chrismation, at which time we are offered to God, and reborn of "Water and the Spirit."

As far as services are concerned, it is significant that "the feast of the Entrance of Mary...marks the first specific liturgical announcement of the birth of Christ". On the eve of this holiday the Nativity canon is sung during Matins, at the Vigil service, and at each subsequent major Vigil until Christmas. The troparion (main theme song) for the day exclaims why this is: 'Mary's appearance in the Temple is an anticipation of the Messiah's Advent.' In Orthodoxy Mary is always contemplated in light of her role as Jesus' mother. The liturgical art of the Church bears this out. Icons of Mary almost always depict the Incarnate Word as well. Even the most traditional name used for Mary, "Theotokos," identifies her directly with Christ. There is no separate cult of Mary in Orthodoxy. Instead, "Mariology is simply an extension of Christology" for Orthodox Christians (The Orthodox Church). So it is, that as we celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos during Advent we look forward already to the birth of her Son on December 25.
"Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the Temple of God, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice O Fulfillment, of the Creator's dispensation." (Troparion)
In closing we shall quote from the Psalter, verses that are understood as prophetic utterances directly related to Mary. They are used 'extensively in the services of this particular feast and have no doubt provided a great inspiration for the celebration of Mary's consecration to the service of God in the Temple'.
"Hear, O Daughter, and consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father's house, and the King will desire your beauty. Since He is your Lord, bow to Him...
"The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes, in many-colored robes she is led to her King, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train...
"Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations, therefore, the peoples will praise you forever and ever" (Psalm 45: 10-17)

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27 October 2011

Drought and Redemption – The Lessons of Global Warming

“And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58:11)
October 2010 to October 2011 was the driest of any 12-month period on record for Texas. Scorching heat, wildfires, crops destroyed, cattle herds relocated seem to be the new norm for the Lone Star state. But we are not the only ones suffering this, Asia, Africa are also experiencing similar weather patterns, bringing millions to the brink of starvation.

Who is to blame? Some say the global warming, others argue that is a natural variation of the climate, others see in it the wrath of God against a sinful generation. Nobody really knows who’s fault it is, but we all suffer greatly from it.

I am sure, based on the testimony of the Fathers, that this is not what God intended for mankind: a world with unpredictable natural calamities that affect the livelihood of billions of people every day; a world where man cannot control his environment and has to work harder and harder everyday for an elusive piece of bread. God is love and He wants better for us.

God’s true plan for mankind was revealed from the very beginning when He put Adam and Eve in the abundant Paradise and not in a forsaken desert (Gen 2:15). All was given to Man free and with the intention of eternity. Man was crowned the King of the world and all was given in his administration to be used as support towards His union with God.

The change of the entire universe that we are witnessing today is not God’s doing, Man alone is responsible. With the fall of Man came also the fall of the entire cosmos: “cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground”. (Gen 3:17-19) Man is the one that missed the target of his existence through sin, isolating himself from God, in a meaningless hope that things would get better this way.

What Man failed to understand was that he was never created to be alone, to live independently. This may be difficult to hear in an age where self determination and self worth is embedded in every grain of our beings, but this is the truth. “Personhood means otherness, difference, but not in isolation, because the full meaning of personhood is found in the communion of persons” writes the theologian John Zizioulas. Man was created in the image of God and the image of God is a Trinity of Persons, living in perfect harmony and love. God made Man so he also can participate in this, to share God’s love through Communion, not independence. This terrible illusion, this false dream of grandeur, has had devastating effects on the entire Creation.

As a consequence of this disaster we live in a fallen world, a world that has turned against Man, its formally crowned king. Droughts, hurricanes, tsunamis are part of this changed earth and we cannot blame any of this on God. He gave us free will because He wanted us to voluntarily accept His love; he gave us the possibility to choose, knowing that we can even make the wrong choice.

We shouldn’t understand this in a mechanical way however: I sin and I get sick, I do the right thing and I receive an immediate reward. It is not that simplistic. All we do however has consequences. As global warming may have an effect on the environment so our irrational cooling from God will have an influence on our climate, both physical and spiritual.

Man was not made immortal, but was given with the possibility to partake in the eternal existence of God. Only through his willful participation Man can achieve a life free of the turmoil of this fallen world. God’s initial intention was made even clearer through the incarnation of Christ. In Him all was renewed; the Adam of old was replaced by the New Adam that made the right choice for us, not isolated in a distant heaven, but by being one of us in the flesh.

Christ showed that this fallen nature is only temporary and though it is corrupted and filled with suffering and pain it is not all that is; it is not the goal, it is not the end. He showed that although we may die we can still live if we are in Communion with Him. He died and rose from the dead to show us how we can also rise from the fallenness of our nature and be not what we are now, but what God always intended us to be.

We live in a world that is not what it was supposed to be and periodically we suffer its mood swings. It is up to us to make the best out of it and work for our salvation in spite of the harshness of our environment. We are called to follow Christ and by our transformation in Him to change the entire cosmos. This time for better and for ever.

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26 October 2011

Taoism: remedy for a world in crisis?

From environmental protection to crime prevention, Taoist priests, scholars and dignitaries on Tuesday called for building a harmonious world by using the ancient wisdom of Lao Tze, a Chinese philosopher who lived over 2,500 years ago.

During the three-day International Taoism Forum, which closed in central China's Hunan Province on Tuesday, about 500 delegates from more than 20 countries and regions, including China, the United States, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Japan, exchanged thoughts on how to integrate Lao Tze's philosophy into modern society in an effort to solve existing problems such as war, terrorism and financial crises.

A declaration issued at the closing ceremony called on people around the world to "achieve serenity of body and mind, peaceable human relationships, environmental harmony and sustainable development," as conflicts grow rife and the natural world is disturbed due to the unchecked desires of man.


The 1,800-year-old religion of Taoism originated from Lao Tze's (BC 571-471) book "Tao Te Ching," in which he postulated that everything in the universe was born from emptiness and that balance and harmony should be achieved between human beings and nature.

Taoism was all but wiped out during the chaotic Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and resumed after China's reform and opening-up to the outside world in the late 1970s. Recent statistics show that there are nearly 100,000 Taoist priests and over 5,000 Taoist religious sites on the Chinese mainland.

During the forum, religious figures and philosophical experts lashed out at the greed of modern people, saying that their behavior has led to natural degradation.

"The destruction of the natural environment -- often done today in the pursuit of wealth -- has gathered force in the past hundred years and is now like a runaway train," said Martin Palmer, secretary-general of the U.K.-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

"To me, the global financial crisis was caused by nothing other than the greed of Wall Street," said Liu Changle, board chairman and CEO of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television.

Delegates also expressed concerns over moral degradation in Chinese society. Earlier this month, a two-year-old girl was ignored by 18 passersby after she was run over by two vans and left to bleed on a street in the city of Foshan in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong. The injured girl died in a hospital last Friday, sparking a nationwide debate on the country's moral standards.

"In a market economy, some people blind themselves with materialist desires and pursue nothing but profits. It is causing a moral, psychological and social crisis for China," said Professor Xu Kangsheng from the Department of Philosophy of Peking University.

"Many Chinese are occupied with pursuing fame and fortune, only to end up with an exhausted and uneasy mind," said Huang Zhijie, vice president of the Chinese Taoist Association.

Delegates called for promoting Taoist wisdom as a possible remedy, as the belief system holds that greed is the root of all hatred, killing and war.

"Taoism asks people to pursue a simple, but correct lifestyle, and to jettison excessive desires and choices," said Ge Rongjin, a philosophy professor from Renmin University

He said a return to Taoist tranquility could help people relax and calm their minds, allowing them to find the "right path."

Palmer said that to many in our contemporary world, extravagant wealth is the main goal and greed feeds on the desire to have the best of everything and to show it off to the rest of the world.

"But Taoism goes in the opposite direction. Simple living is the heart of the Taoist way of life. And it is a joyful simplicity," he said.


The forum, co-sponsored by the Chinese Taoist Association and the China Religious Culture Communication Association, is a continuation of the International Forum on Tao Te Ching held in Xi'an and Hong Kong in April 2007, bringing Taoists from all over the world to discuss their beliefs.

"The philosophy Lao Tze wrote 2,500 years ago is still alive today," said Herve Louchouarn Trestard, a Mexican doctor and president of the Mexican Taoist Association.

Nevertheless, compared with Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, Taoism has yet to develop into a global religion, although modern international communities are starting to realize the practical significance of Taoism and Lao Tze's thoughts.

In 1995, the British Taoist Association was founded in London, making it the first Taoist group in Europe. In 2001, the Spanish Taoist Association was founded and the first Taoist temple in Europe, the Qing Jing Gong, was established in Barcelona in the same year.

The number of Taoist disciples in Europe and North America has been on the rise over recent years, with Taoist associations established in several countries, including the United States, France, Portugal and Italy.

Ong Seng Huat, director of the Taoist Culture Research Center in Malaysia, believes that Taoism should develop into a world religion because the Tao Te Ching and Lao Zi's thoughts had a "global perspective" from the very beginning, which has allowed Taoism to transcend countries, regions and races.

He suggested that Taoists should set up more organizations and engage themselves in more international talks and activities in order to contribute more to the international community.

"It is time for Taoism to grow. Because it can help not only people in China, but also people in the West," Trestard said.

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23 October 2011

What happens to the soul after death?

Many western sects believe that the soul is in a state of sleep after Death, and awaiting Judgement Day. Some others believe the soul dies, only to be awakened after Judgement.

This teaching also helps them to reject the saints. They argue that since the departed souls are either “sleeping” or “dead”, we cannot Intercede to them.

St. Paul's admonition in the Bible to intercede to each other, applies only to the “living”(on earth), they say.

Concept of Soul Sleep contradicts Bible.
Most Protestants have recently decided to believe a new teaching that the soul is dormant and inactive till the final Judgement Day.

Ponder over these questions:
  • Where did the Good Thief’s soul go after death? (“Today you will be with me in Paradise”Luke 23:43). Jesus promised him “paradise” right after death.
  • Where are the souls of Elijah and Moses kept alive, so that they could talk to Jesus on the Day of Transfiguration? (Mark 9:1-8)
  • Where is Enoch now, bible says he was taken upto heaven alive. Is he exempt from Judgement Day? "Then Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him".–Genesis 5:2
  • Where is Elijah now, the bible says he too was taken up to heaven alive like Enoch. Is he exempt from judgement day? “….behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”.–2 Kings 2:11
  • How could Prophet Jeremiah give blessings to the Jewish army, centuries after his earthly death? "Onias then said of him, "This is God's prophet Jeremiah, who loves his brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city."–2 Maccabees 15:14
They believe that everyone is in “Soul Sleep” till Judgement Day. This is a wrong concept biblically because of the points/questions raised above.

The Christian Church has from the beginning taught that there are two judgments:
  1. The first, or “Particular” Judgment, is that experienced by each individual at the time of his or her death, at which time God will decide where the soul is to spend the time until the Second Coming of Christ. This judgment is believed to occur on the Fortieth day after death.
  2. The second, General or “Final” Judgment will occur after the Second Coming.
Particular Judgement.
The first or Particular Judgement decides where and how the soul will reside till the Judgement Day.

The greatest example of Particular Judgement is that of the Good Thief, who was promised paradise right after death by Jesus Christ.

There are examples in Old Testament too, like that of Enoch and Elijah who were taken upto heaven alive.

If even the Good Thief, who accepted Christ on his dying state, was given an active and alive soul, which resides in Paradise, how much more will Jesus Christ honour his own Mother, His Apostles, the Martyrs and the Saints?

They too will be alive in Paradise. Mother Mary, the Apostles, Saints, Martyrs and the pious Christians.

Revelation 4:4"And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold".

These 24 elders sitting on the thrones in heaven are the 12 patriarchs of Old Testament and the 12 Apostles of the New.

Day 40.
In most cases, the Particular Judgement is supposed to occur on Day 40.

We, Orthodox, consider the first 40 days after the material death of a person as very important.
We pray for them/conduct eucharist on these points during the 40 days:

The 3rd day (because Jesus ressurected on 3rd day).

The 9th day (because there are 9 classes of angels, and it is the angel that delivers the soul safely to its location and protects it from the devils legions)

The 40th day is very symbolic and important in Christian and Jewish theology. Major Changes and Transformations took place after 40 days:
  1. 1)The Great Flood’s rains lasted for 40 days: Gen 7:12“And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights”.
  2. The embalming of Jacob in egyptian fashion. Even though the Egyptians were pagans, they too understood the importance of day 40 in the transitions during after life: Gen 50:3“And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed”.
  3. Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (TWICE) Exo 24:18"And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights".
  4. It took the spies 40 days to search out the promised land and bring back fruit. Num 13:25"And they returned from searching of the land after forty days".
  5. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land. Exo 16:35"And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan."
  6. Goliath came for forty days before being killed by David. 1 Sam/Kdm 17:16"For forty days, twice a day, morning and evening, the Philistine giant strutted in front of the Israelite army".
  7. Noah waited 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. Gen 8:6“And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made”
  8. Elijah strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God. 1 Kin 19:8“And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God”.
  9. Jonah warned the City of Nineveh they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. The people repented in those 40 days and God spared the city. Jonah 3:4 & 10“And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown”.
  10. JESUS fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. Mat 4:1-2"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered".
  11. JESUS was seen in the earth 40 days after His crucifixion. Acts 1:3"After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God".
Also of note:
  • The ancient Egyptians took 40 days to embalm their dead.
  • The Hindus pray for their dead on day 41.
  • The Tibetan Buddhists Book of the dead speaks of a journey of 49 days after death before reaching the final destination.
  • The Jews mourned their dead for 40 days.
  • The early Christians pray for their departed ones fervently in the first 40 days and they too understood the importance.
St. Symeon of Thessalonika writes: “The forty days of prayer are done in memory of the Ascension of the Lord, forty days after His Resurrection, [in hopes] that likewise, the deceased, rising from the tomb and ascending to meet the Lord, might taken be taken up in the clouds, and thus ever be with the Lord.” Novaya Skryzhal’, Part 4, Chapter 472.

In Christ, we dont die.
The Church (to which St. Mary, St. Peter etc belongs) is the BODY of CHRIST.

There is no separation. So just as Christ is alive, we to live.

Christ and Church are compared to:

Vine and branches
  • Joh 15:1,5 Foundation and building
  • 1Col 3:10,11; Eph 2:20,21; 1Pet 2:4-6 Body and members
  • 1Col 12:12,27; Eph 5:30 Husband and wife
  • Eph 5:25-32
Christ being in us- Eph 3:17; Col 1:27

Our being in Christ- 2Co 12:2; 1Jo 5:20

John 10:34–“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?”

“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”1 John 4:13

So if you say that the Saints, who achieved a high degree of theosis to be grafted onto his body, are dead, then you are saying that Jesus Christ is dead too.

So we can say that some of the Christians (mostly the saints) are in paradise right after death due to particular judgement (as in the case of the Good Thief, Elijah, etc.)

Some maybe in a state of sleep.

Who gets what is upto God alone. We only have the scripture and tradition to give us answers which science cannot provide.

However we Orthodox Christians believe certain Christlike individuals like St. Mary, the Apostles, Saints etc are ones who passed particular judgement like the Good Thief, and like Enoch and Elijah.

We can say conclusively that it is not for nothing that Jesus Christ said thus:

″I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”Mark 9:1

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22 October 2011

On Ghosts, Wandering Spirits and Demons by Saint John Chysostom

"It came to pass," it is said, "that Lazarus died; and he was carried up by angels," (Luke 17:22).
Here, before I proceed, I desire to remove a wrong impression from your minds. For it is a fact that many of the less instructed think that the souls of those who die a violent death become wandering spirits (or demons).

But this is not so. I repeat it is not so. For not the souls of those who die a violent death become demons, but rather the souls of those who live in sin; not that their nature is changed, but that in their desires they imitate the evil nature of demons. Showing this very thing to the Jews, Christ said, "Ye are the children of the devil," (John 7:44). He said that they were the children of the devil, not because they were changed into a nature like his, but because they performed actions like his. Wherefore also He adds: "For the lusts of your father ye will do." Also John says: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do therefore works meet for repentance. And think not to say, We have Abraham for our father" (Matt. 3:7-9). The Scripture, therefore, is accustomed to base the laws of relationship, not on natural origin, but on good or evil disposition; and those to whom any one shows similarity of manners and actions, the Scripture declares him to be their son or their brother.

But for what object did the evil one introduce this wicked saying? It is because he would strive to undermine the glory of the martyrs. For since these also died a violent death, he did this with the intention of spreading a low estimation of them. This, however, he is unable to effect; they remain in possession of their former glory. But another and more grievous thing he has brought to pass; he has, by these means, persuaded the wizards who do his work to murder many innocent children, expecting them to become wandering spirits, and afterward to be their servants. But these notions are false - I repeat they are false. What then if the demons say, "I am the spirit of such and such a monk"? Neither because of this do I credit the notion, since evil spirits say so to deceive those who listen to them.

For this reason St Paul stopped their mouth, even when speaking the truth, in order that they might not, on this pretext, at another time mingle falsehood with the truth, and still be deemed worthy of credit. For when they said, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation," (Acts 16:17) being grieved in spirit, he rebuked the sorceress, and commanded the spirits to go out. What evil was there in saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God"? Be that as it may, since many of the more weak-minded cannot always know how to decide aright concerning things spoken by demons, he at once put a stop to any credence in them. "If," he implied, "thou art one of those in dishonor, thou hast no liberty of speaking: be silent, and open not thy mouth; it is not thy office to preach; this is the privilege of the apostles. Why dost thou arrogate to thyself that which is not thine? Be silent! Thou art fallen from honour." The same thing also Christ did, when the evil spirits said to Him, "We know Thee who Thou art," (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:24). He rebuked them with great severity, teaching us never to listen to spirits, not even when they say what is true. Having learnt this, therefore, let us not trust at all in an evil spirit, even though he speak the truth; let us avoid him and turn away. Sound doctrine and saving truth are to be learned with accuracy, not from evil spirits, but from the Holy Scripture.

To show that it is not true that the soul, when it departs from the body, comes under the dominion of evil spirits, hear what St Paul says: "He that is dead is freed from sin," (Rom. 6:7) that is, he no longer sins. For if while the soul dwells in the body, the devil can use no violence against it, it is clear that he cannot when the soul has departed. How is it then, say they, that men sin, if they do not suffer any violence? They sin voluntarily and intentionally, surrendering themselves without compulsion or coercion. And this all those prove who have overcome the evil one's devices. Thus [Satan] was unable to persuade Job to utter any blasphemous word, though he tried a thousand plans. Hence it is manifest that it is in our power either to be influenced or not to be influenced by his counsels; and that we are under no necessity nor tyranny from him. And not only from that which has just been said, but from the parable, it is quite certain that souls when they leave the body do not still linger here, but are forthwith led away. And hear how it is shown: "It came to pass," it is said, "that he died, and was carried away by the angels." Not the souls of the just only, but also those of sinners are led away. This also is clear from the case of another rich man. For when his land brought forth abundantly, he said within himself, "What shall I do? I will pull down my barns and build greater," (Luke 12:18). Than this state of mind nothing could be more wretched. He did in truth pull down his barns; for secure storehouses are not built with walls of stone; they are "the mouths of the poor." But this man neglecting these, was busy about stone walls. What, however, did God say to him? "Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee." Mark also this: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that "they require it;" and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. For this reason it often rises up and again sinks down into the depth below; it fears and shivers as it is about to put off the flesh. The consciousness of sin ever pierces us, and chiefly at that hour when we are about to be led hence to the account there to be rendered, and to the awful tribunal. Then, if a man has robbed, if he has been covetous, if he has been haughty, if he has unjustly been any one's enemy, if he has committed any other sin whatsoever, all the load of guilt is brought fresh to light, and being placed before the eye causes mental compunction. And as those who live in prison are always in sorrow and pain, and especially on that day when they are to be led forth, and brought to the place where they are to be tried, and placed at the bar, and hear the voice of the judge within; as they then are full of fear, and seem no better than dead men, so the soul, though it is much pained at the very moment of the sinful act, is much more afflicted when about to be hurried away.

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21 October 2011

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (Greek: Οἰκουμενικὸν Πατριαρχεῖον Κωνσταντινουπόλεως, IPA: [ikumenikˈon patriarˈxion konstantinuˈpoleos]; Turkish: Rum Ortodoks Patrikhanesi, "Roman Orthodox Patriarchate"), part of the wider Orthodox Church, is one of the fourteen autocephalous churches within the communion of Orthodox Christianity. It is headed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, currently Bartholomew I.

Due to its location at the former capital of the Byzantine Empire and its role as the mother church of most modern Orthodox churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has enjoyed the status of "first among equals" among the world's Eastern Orthodox prelates. Unlike the Pope, he does not exercise control over the individual autocephalous churches, which are fully autonomous. However the Moscow Patriarchate represents the numerically largest Orthodox community.

Christianity in Byzantium existed from the 1st century, but it was in the year 330 that the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great moved his residence to the small Greek town of Byzantium, renaming it Nova Roma. From that time, the importance of the church there grew, along with the influence of its bishop.

Prior to the moving of the imperial capital, the bishop of Byzantium had been under the authority of the metropolitan of Heraclea, but beginning in the 4th century, he grew to become independent in his own right and even to exercise authority throughout what is now modern-day Greece, Asia Minor, Pontus, and Thrace. With the development of the hierarchical structure of the Church, the bishop of Constantinople came to be styled as exarch (a position superior to metropolitan). Constantinople was recognized as the fourth patriarchate at the First Council of Constantinople in 381, after Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. The patriarch was usually appointed by Antioch.

Because of the importance of the position of Constantinople's church at the center of the Roman Empire, affairs involving the various churches outside Constantinople's direct authority came to be discussed in the capital, particularly where the intervention of the emperor was desired. The patriarch naturally became a liaison between the emperor and bishops traveling to the capital, thus establishing the position of the patriarch as one involving the unity of the whole Church, particularly in the East.

In turn, the affairs of the Constantinopolitan church were overseen not just by the patriarch, but also by synods held including visiting bishops. This pan-Orthodox synod came to be referred to as the ενδημουσα συνοδος (endimousa synodos, "resident synod"). The resident synod not only governed the business of the patriarchate but also examined questions pertinent to the whole Church as well as the eastern half of the old empire.

The patriarch thus came to have the title of Ecumenical, which referenced not a universal episcopacy over other bishops, but rather the position of the patriarch as at the center of the oikoumeni, the "household" of the empire.

As the Roman Empire stabilized and grew, so did the influence of the patriarchate at its capital. This influence came to be enshrined in Orthodox canon law, to such an extent that it was elevated even beyond more ancient patriarchates: Canon 3 of the First Council of Constantinople (381) stated that the bishop of that city "shall have primacy of honor after the Bishop of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome."

In its disputed 28th Canon, the Council of Chalcedon in 451 recognized an expansion of the boundaries of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and of its authority over bishops of dioceses "among the barbarians", which has been variously interpreted as referring either to areas outside the Byzantine Empire or to non-Greeks. The council resulted in a schism with the Monophysite Patriarchate of Alexandria.

In any case, for almost a thousand years the Patriarch of Constantinople presided over the church in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and its missionary activity that brought the Christian faith in its Byzantine form to many peoples north of the imperial borders. The cathedral church of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), was the center of religious life in the Christian world.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate came to be called "the Great Church of Christ", and it was the touchstone and reference point for ecclesiastical affairs in the East, whether in terms of church government, relations with the state, or liturgical matters.

In history and in canonical literature (i.e. the Church's canons and traditional commentaries on them), the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been granted certain prerogatives (presbeia) which other autocephalous Orthodox churches do not have. Not all of these prerogatives are today universally acknowledged, though all do have precedents in history and canonical references. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of these prerogatives and their reference points:
  • Equal prerogatives to Old Rome (Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Canon 36 of the Quinisext Council);
  • The right to hear appeals, if invited, regarding disputes between clergy (Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council);
  • The right to ordain bishops for areas outside defined canonical boundaries (Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council);
  • The right to establish stavropegial monasteries even in the territories of other patriarchates (the Epanagoge, commentaries of Matthew Blastares and Theodore Balsamon)
In the eighth and ninth centuries the iconoclast movement caused serious political unrest throughout the Empire. The emperor Leo III issued a heretical decree in 726 against images, and ordered the destruction of a statue of Christ over one of the doors of the Chalke, an act which was fiercely resisted by the citizens.

Constantine V convoked a church council in 754 which condemned the veneration of images, after which many treasures were broken, burned, or painted over with depictions of trees, birds or animals: one source refers to the church of the Holy Virgin at Blachernae as having been transformed into a "fruit store and aviary". Following the death of his son Leo IV in 780, the empress Irene restored the veneration of images through the agency of the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

The iconoclast controversy returned in the early 9th century, only to be resolved once more in 843 during the regency of Empress Theodora, who restored the icons.

The relations between the papacy and the Byzantine court were good in the years leading up to 1054. The emperor Constantine IX and the Pope Leo IX were allied through the mediation of the Lombard catepan of Italy, Argyrus, who had spent years in Constantinople, originally as a political prisoner.

Patriarch Michael I ordered a letter to be written to the bishop of Trani in which he attacked the "Judaistic" practices of the West, namely the use of unleavened bread. The letter was to be sent by John to all the bishops of the West, including the Pope. John promptly complied and the letter was passed to one Humbert of Mourmoutiers, the cardinal-bishop of Silva Candida, who translated the letter into Latin and brought it to the Pope, who ordered a reply to be made to each charge and a defence of papal supremacy to be laid out in a response.

Although he was hot-headed, Michael was convinced to cool the debate and thus attempt to prevent the impending breach. However, Humbert and the pope made no concessions and the former was sent with legatine powers to the imperial capital to solve the questions raised once and for all. Humbert, Frederick of Lorraine, and Peter, Archbishop of Amalfi arrived in April 1054 and were met with a hostile reception; they stormed out of the palace, leaving the papal response with Michael, who in turn was even more angered by their actions. The patriarch refused to recognise their authority or, practically, their existence. When Pope Leo died on April 19, 1054, the legates' authority legally ceased, but they effectively ignored this technicality.

In response to Michael's refusal to take on the issues at hand, the legatine mission took the extreme measure of entering the church of the Hagia Sophia during the Divine Liturgy and placing a bull of excommunication on the altar.

The events of the East-West Schism are generally dated from the acts of 1054. However, these events only triggered the beginning of the schism. The full schism was not actually consummated by the seemingly mutual excommunications. The New Catholic Encyclopedia reports that the legates had been careful not to intimate that the bull of excommunication implied a general excommunication of the Byzantine Church. The bull excommunicated only Caerularius, Leo of Achrida, and their adherents. Thus, the New Catholic Encyclopedia argues that the dispute need not have produced a permanent schism any more than excommunication of any "contumacious bishop". The schism began to develop when all the other Eastern patriarchs supported Caerularius. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, it was the support of Emperor Michael VI Stratiotikos that impelled them to support Caerularius. Some have questioned the validity of the bull on the grounds that Pope Leo IX had died at that time and so the authority of the legates to issue such a bull is unclear.

The legates left for Rome two days after issuing the bull of excommunication, leaving behind a city near riot. The patriarch had the immense support of the people against the emperor, who had supported the legates to his own detriment. To assuage popular anger, the bull was burnt, and the legates were anathematised. Only the legates were anathematised and, in this case too, there was no explicit indication that the entire Western church was being anathematised.

In the bull of excommunication issued against Patriarch Michael by the papal legates, one of the reasons cited was the Eastern Church's deletion of the "Filioque" from the original Nicene Creed. In fact, it was precisely the opposite: the Eastern Church did not delete anything. It was the Western Church that added this phrase to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

"Even after 1054 friendly relations between East and West continued. The two parts of Christendom were not yet conscious of a great gulf of separation between them. … The dispute remained something of which ordinary Christians in East and West were largely unaware". In fact, efforts were made in subsequent centuries by Popes and Patriarchs to heal the rift between the churches. However, a number of factors and historical events worked to widen the separation over time.

The Fourth Crusade in agreement for funds attempted to help the deposed emperor Alexius IV regain his throne. After taking Constanople, returning Alexius IV to the throne, the revolt against and death of Alexius IV, the Crusaders were left without payment. On 12 April 1204, the crusaders inflicted a severe sacking on Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were either stolen or destroyed. Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the Crusaders ruthlessly and systematically violated the city's holy sanctuaries, destroying, defiling, or stealing all they could lay hands on; nothing was spared. It was said that the total amount looted from Constantinople was about 900,000 silver marks. The Venetians received 150,000 silver marks that was their due, while the Crusaders received 50,000 silver marks. A further 100,000 silver marks were divided evenly up between the Crusaders and Venetians. The remaining 500,000 silver marks were secretly kept back by many Crusader knights.

Speros Vryonis in Byzantium and Europe gives a vivid account of the sack of Constantinople by the Frankish and Venetian Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade:
"The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church's holy vessels. The estrangement of East and West, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Crusading movement thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention."(Vryonis, Byzantium and Europe, p.152)
When the Bishop of Rome, Innocent III, heard of the conduct of his pilgrims, he was filled with shame and strongly rebuked the crusaders.

Meanwhile, the Latin Empire of Constantinople was established, and Byzantine refugees founded their own successor states, the most notable of these being the Empire of Nicaea under Theodore Lascaris (a relative of Alexius III), the Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus.

The new seat of the Patriarchate was established in the city of Nicea until in 1261, when Constantinople was reconquered by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos.

After Constantinople was overrun by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Patriarchate came to care more directly for all the Orthodox living in the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed II appointed Gennadios II Scholarios as the Patriarch in 1454 and designated him as the spiritual leader as well as the ethnarch or milletbasi of all the Orthodox Christians in the Empire, not just those of Hellenic origin. During this period Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians of southern Albania, and Greeks of northern Greece came under the spiritual, administrative, fiscal, cultural and legal jurisdiction of the Patriarchate. Some of the other patriarchs came at various points to live permanently in Constantinople and function as part of the local church government.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which for centuries had been a diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, declared its independence in 1448, shortly before Constantinople fell, owing to its protest over the Council of Florence, in which representatives of the patriarchate had signed onto union with Rome, trading doctrinal concessions for military aid against the encroaching Ottomans. The military aid never came, and those concessions were subsequently repudiated by the patriarchate, but from 1448, the Russian church came to function independently. Within decades after the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire on 29 May 1453, some were nominating Moscow as the "Third Rome", or the "New Rome". 141 years later, in 1589, Constantinople came to recognize Russia's independence and led the Orthodox Church in declaring Russia also to be a patriarchate, numbering Moscow's bishop as fifth in rank behind the ancient patriarchates. The Russian Orthodox Church became the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world.

As Ottoman rule eventually weakened, various parts of the Orthodox Church that had been under the direct influence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate came to be independent. These churches at first usually declared their independence without universal approval, which came after Constantinople gave its blessing. The rate at which these new autocephalous ("self-headed") churches came into being increased in the 19th century, particularly with the independence of Greece.

In 1833, the Church of Greece declared its autocephaly, which was subsequently recognized by the patriarchate in 1850. In 1865, the Romanian Orthodox Church, against the protests of Constantinople, declared its independence, which was acknowledged in 1885. A year before Greece's autocephaly was self-proclaimed, the Serbian Orthodox Church was named autocephalous by the local secular government, and Constantinople refused recognition until 1879. In 1860 the Bulgarians de-facto seceded from the Great Church and in 1870 the Bulgarian church was politically recognized as autonomous under the name Bulgarian Exarchate by the Sultan's firman, although it was not until 1945 that it was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 1922, the Albanian Orthodox Church declared its autocephaly, being granted recognition of it in 1937.

In addition to these churches, whose territory had been agreed upon by all as within Constantinople's jurisdiction, several other disputed areas' Orthodox churches have had recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as either autocephalous or autonomous, including the Finnish Orthodox Church and Estonian Orthodox Church in 1923, the Polish Orthodox Church in 1924, the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church in 1998. The majority of these disputes are a result of the expansion of the Russian Empire, which often included a subjugation of the churches in conquered lands to the Moscow Patriarchate.

As a ruling institution, Ottoman Empire brought regulations on how the cities would be build (quality reassurances) and how the architecture (structural integrity, social needs, etc.) should be shaped.

Special restrictions were imposed concerning the construction, the renovation, the size and the ringing of the bells in Orthodox churches. For example, an Orthodox church should not be larger in size than a mosque. Many of the large cathedrals were destroyed (e.g. the Church of the Holy Apostles), transformed into mosques, by desecrating their interior and exterior (notably the Hagia Sophia, Chora Church, Rotonda, Hagios Demetrios) or served as armories for the Janissaries (e.g. Hagia Irene).

Since 1586 the Ecumenical Patriarchate has had its headquarters in the relatively modest Church of St George in the Phanar district of Istanbul. The current territory of the Patriarchate is significantly reduced from what it was at its height. Its canonical territory currently includes most of modern Turkey, northern Greece and Mount Athos, the Dodecanese and Crete. By its interpretation of Canon 28 of Chalcedon, Constantinople also claims jurisdiction over all areas outside the canonically defined territories of other Orthodox churches, which includes the entire Western hemisphere, Australia, the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. This claim is disputed by other autocephalous churches with diocese in those areas, as well as the Turkish government.

The Orthodox presence in Turkey itself is small; however the majority of Orthodox in North America (about two-thirds) are under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, primarily in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The Patriarchate also enjoys an even greater majority in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Albanian, Carpatho-Russian and Ukrainian jurisdictions in America are also part of the Patriarchate.

Most of the Patriarchate's funding does not come directly from its member churches but rather from the government of Greece, due to an arrangement whereby the Patriarchate had transferred property it had owned to Greece, in exchange, the employees, including the clergy, of the Patriarchate are remunerated by the Greek government. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America provides substantial support through an annual contribution, known as the "logia", and its institutions, including the American based Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptohos Society and the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, usually important laymen who make large donations for the upkeep of the Patriarchate. In turn, they are granted honorary titles which once belonged to members of the Patriarchal staff in centuries past.

The Patriarchate acts in the capacity of being an intermediary and facilitator between the Orthodox churches and also in relations with other Christians and religions. This role sometimes brings the Patriarchate into conflict with other Orthodox churches, as its role in the Church is debated. The question centers around whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate is simply the most honored among the Orthodox churches or whether it has any real authority or prerogatives (presveia) which differ from the other autocephalous churches. This dispute is often between Constantinople and Moscow, the largest Orthodox church in terms of population, especially as expressed in the Third Rome theory which places Moscow in the place of Constantinople as the center of world Orthodoxy.

The relationship between Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire was frequently bitter, due in no small part to the privilege given to Islam. In the secular Republic of Turkey, tensions are still constant. Turkey requires by law that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen, but all Patriarchs have been ethnic Greeks since 1923. The state's expropriation of church property and the closing of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki are also difficulties faced by the Patriarchate.

The affairs of the patriarchate are conducted by the Holy Synod, presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The synod has existed since some time prior to the fourth century and assists the patriarch in determining the affairs of the possessions under his jurisdiction. The synod first developed from what was referred to as the resident synod, composed of the patriarch, local bishops, and any Orthodox bishops who were visiting in the imperial capital of Constantinople. After the fall of Constantinople, the synod's membership became limited to bishops of the patriarchate.

Head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and of the Holy Synod is the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch "first among equals" and Co-Head of State of Mount Athos, Bartholomew I (Dimitrios Archontonis) (1991-). The local churches of the Ecumenical Patriarchate consist of six archdioceses, eight churches, and 18 metropolises, each of which reports directly to the Patriarch of Constantinople with no intervening authority. In addition, three of the six archdioceses have internal metropolises (17 in all), which are part of their respective archdioceses rather than distinct administrative entities, unlike the other metropolises. Two of the churches of the patriarchate are autonomous, the Finnish Orthodox Church and the Estonian Orthodox Church.

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20 October 2011

The Persecuted Coptic Christians in Egypt

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the official name for the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East. The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, when it took a different position over Christological theology from that of the catholic and apostolic body of churches of Orthodox Christianity.

 The precise differences in theology that caused the split with the Coptic Christians are still disputed, highly technical and mainly concerned with the nature of Christ. The foundational roots of the Church are based in Egypt but it has a worldwide following. According to tradition, the church was established by Saint Mark the apostle and evangelist in the middle of the 1st century (approximately AD 42). The head of the church and the See of Alexandria is the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark, currently Pope Shenouda III. At the moment, 9% of Egyptians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, though other churches also claim Patriarchates and Patriarchs of Alexandria; among them:
  • The Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
  • The Coptic Catholic Church of Alexandria
  • The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem
Egypt is identified in the Bible as the place of refuge that the Holy Family sought in its flight[4] from Judea:
"When he [Joseph] arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod the Great, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called My Son" (Matthew 2:12–23). 
The Egyptian Church, which is now more than 1,900 years old, regards itself as the subject of many prophecies in the Old Testament. Isaiah the prophet, in Chapter 19, Verse 19 says "In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border."

The first Christians in Egypt were common people who spoke Egyptian Coptic, there were also Alexandrian Jews such as Theophilus, whom Saint Luke the Evangelist addresses in the introductory chapter of his gospel. When the church was founded by Saint Mark during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, a great multitude of native Egyptians (as opposed to Greeks or Jews) embraced the Christian faith.

Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria, as is clear from the New Testament writings found in Bahnasa, in Middle Egypt, which date around the year AD 200, and a fragment of the Gospel of John, written in Coptic, which was found in Upper Egypt and can be dated to the first half of the 2nd century. In the 2nd century, Christianity began to spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated into the local language, namely Coptic.

The Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest catechetical school in the world. St. Jerome records that the Christian School of Alexandria was founded by Saint Mark himself. Around 190 AD under the leadership of the scholar Pantanaeus, the school of Alexandria became an important institution of religious learning, where students were taught by scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and the native Egyptian Origen, who was considered the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. Origen wrote over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapla.

Many scholars such as Jerome visited the school of Alexandria to exchange ideas and to communicate directly with its scholars. The scope of this school was not limited to theological subjects; science, mathematics and humanities were also taught there. The question-and-answer method of commentary began there, and 15 centuries before Braille, wood-carving techniques were in use there by blind scholars to read and write.

The Theological college of the catechetical school was re-established in 1893. The new school currently has campuses in Ireland, Cairo, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, where Coptic priests-to-be and other qualified men and women are taught among other subjects Christian theology, history, the Coptic language and art - including chanting, music, iconography, and tapestry.

Many Egyptian Christians went to the desert during the 3rd century, and remained there to pray and work and dedicate their lives to seclusion and worship of God. This was the beginning of the monastic movement, which was organized by Anthony the Great, Saint Paul, the world's first anchorite, Saint Macarius the Great and Saint Pachomius the Cenobite in the 4th century.

Christian monasticism was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Orthodox Church character of submission, simplicity and humility, thanks to the teachings and writings of the Great Fathers of Egypt's Deserts. By the end of the 5th century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. A great number of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations to this day.

All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian example: Saint Basil the Great Archbishop of Ceasaria of Cappadocia, founder and organizer of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visited Egypt around AD 357 and his rule is followed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches; Saint Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, came to Egypt, while en route to Jerusalem, around AD 400 and left details of his experiences in his letters; Benedict founded the Benedictine Order in the 6th century on the model of Saint Pachomius, but in a stricter form. Countless pilgrims have visited the "Desert Fathers" to emulate their spiritual, disciplined lives.

In the 4th century, an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius began a theological heresy about the nature of Christ that spread throughout the Christian world and is now known as the heresy of Arianism. The Ecumenical Council of Nicea AD 325 was convened by Constantine under the presidency of Saint Hosius of Cordova and Saint Alexander of Alexandria to resolve the dispute and eventually led to the formulation of the Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed. The Creed, which is now recited throughout the Christian world, was based largely on the teaching put forth by a man who eventually would become Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief opponent of Arius.

In the year AD 381, Pope Timothy I of Alexandria presided over the second ecumenical council known as the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, to judge Macedonious, who denied the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. This council completed the Nicene Creed with this confirmation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit:
"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified who spoke by the Prophets and in One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic church. I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the coming age, Amen."
Another theological dispute in the 5th century occurred over the teachings of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who taught that God the Word was not hypostatically joined with human nature, but rather dwelt in the man Jesus. As a consequence of this, he denied the title "Mother of God" (Theotokos) to the Virgin Mary, declaring her instead to be "Mother of Christ" Christotokos.

When reports of this reached the Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark, Pope Saint Cyril I of Alexandria acted quickly to correct this breach with orthodoxy, requesting that Nestorius repent. When he would not, the Synod of Alexandria met in an emergency session and a unanimous agreement was reached. Pope Cyril I of Alexandria, supported by the entire See, sent a letter to Nestorius known as "The Third Epistle of Saint Cyril to Nestorius." This epistle drew heavily on the established Patristic Constitutions and contained the most famous article of Alexandrian Orthodoxy: "The Twelve Anathemas of Saint Cyril." In these anathemas, Cyril excommunicated anyone who followed the teachings of Nestorius. For example, "Anyone who dares to deny the Holy Virgin the title Theotokos is Anathema!" Nestorius however, still would not repent and so this led to the convening of the First Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), over which Cyril presided.

The Council confirmed the teachings of Saint Athanasius and confirmed the title of Mary as "Mother of God". It also clearly stated that anyone who separated Christ into two hypostases was anathema, as Athanasius had said that there is "One Nature and One Hypostasis for God the Word Incarnate" (Mia Physis tou Theou Loghou Sesarkomeni). Also, the introduction to the creed was formulated as follows:

"We magnify you O Mother of the True Light and we glorify you O saint and Mother of God (Theotokos) for you have borne unto us the Saviour of the world. Glory to you O our Master and King: Christ, the pride of the Apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the rejoicing of the righteous, firmness of the churches and the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the Holy Trinity in One Godhead: we worship Him, we glorify Him, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord bless us, Amen." [not dissimilar to the "Axion Estin" Chant still used in Orthodoxy]

When in AD 451, Emperor Marcianus attempted to heal divisions in the Church, the response of Pope Dioscorus – the Pope of Alexandria who was later exiled – was that the emperor should not intervene in the affairs of the Church. It was at Chalcedon that the emperor, through the Imperial delegates, enforced harsh disciplinary measures against Pope Dioscorus in response to his boldness.

In terms of Christology, the Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonians) understanding is that Christ is "One Nature--the Logos Incarnate," of the full humanity and full divinity. The Chalcedonians' (Mainstream Christianity: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) understanding is that Christ is in two natures, full humanity and full divinity. Just as humans are of their mothers and fathers and not in their mothers and fathers, so too is the nature of Christ according to Oriental Orthodoxy. If Christ is in full humanity and in full divinity, then He is separate in two persons as the Nestorians teach. This is the doctrinal perception that makes the apparent difference which separated the Oriental Orthodox from the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Council's findings were rejected by many of the Christians on the fringes of the Byzantine Empire, including Egyptians, Syrians, Armenians, and others.

From that point onward, Alexandria would have two patriarchs: the non-Chalcedonian native Egyptian one, now known as the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of St. Mark and the "Melkite" or Imperial Patriarch, now known as the Greek Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa.

Almost the entire Egyptian population rejected the terms of the Council of Chalcedon and remained faithful to the native Egyptian Church (now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria). Those who supported the Chalcedonian definition remained in communion with the other leading churches of Rome and Constantinople. The non-Chalcedonian party became what is today called the Oriental Orthodox Church.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria regards itself as having been misunderstood at the Council of Chalcedon. There was an opinion in the Church that viewed that perhaps the Council understood the Church of Alexandria correctly, but wanted to curtail the existing power of the Alexandrine Hierarch, especially after the events that happened several years before at Constantinople from Pope Theophilus of Alexandria towards Patriarch John Chrysostom and the unfortunate turnouts of the Second Council of Ephesus in AD 449, where Eutichus misled Pope Dioscorus and the Council in confessing the Orthodox Faith in writing and then renouncing it after the Council, which in turn, had upset Rome, especially that the Tome which was sent was not read during the Council sessions.

To make things even worse, the Tome of Pope Leo of Rome was, according to the Alexandria School of Theology, particularly in regards to the definition of Christology, considered influenced by Nestorian heretical teachings. So, due to the above mentioned, especially in the consecutive sequences of events, the Hierarchs of Alexandria were considered holding too much of power from one hand, and on the other hand, due to the conflict of the Schools of Theology, there would be an impass and a scapegoat, i.e. Pope Dioscorus.

It is also to be noted that by anathemizing Pope Leo, because of the tone and content of his tome, Pope Dioscorus was found guilty.

Copts also believe that the Pope of Alexandria was forcibly prevented from attending the third congregation of the council from which he was ousted, apparently the result of a conspiracy tailored by the Roman delegates.

Chalcedonians call the non-Chalcedonians "monophysites" and the Chalcedonian doctrine in turn came to be known by the Copts as "dyophysite".

A term that Copts now say comes closer to Coptic Orthodoxy is miaphysite, which refers to a conjoined nature for Christ, both human and divine, united indivisibly in the Incarnate Logos. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria believes that Christ is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called "the nature of the incarnate word", which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria.

Copts, thus, believe in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one hypostasis "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration". These two natures "did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye" (Coptic Liturgy of Saint Basil of Caesarea).

The Muslim invasion of Egypt took place in AD 639. Despite the political upheaval, the Egyptian population remained mainly Christian. However, the gradual conversions to Islam over the centuries changed Egypt from a Christian to a largely Muslim country by the end of the 12th century.

The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit. In 1855 the jizya tax was abolished. Shortly thereafter, the Copts started to serve in the Egyptian army.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Coptic Church underwent phases of new development. In 1853, Pope Cyril IV established the first modern Coptic schools, including the first Egyptian school for girls. He also founded a printing press, which was the second national press in the country. Pope Cyril IV established very friendly relations with other denominations, to the extent that when the Greek Patriarch in Egypt had to absent himself for a long period of time outside the country, he left his Church under the guidance of the Coptic Patriarch.

The Theological College of the School of Alexandria was reestablished in 1893. It began its new history with five students, one of whom was later to become its dean. Today it has campuses in Alexandria, Cairo, and various dioceses throughout Egypt, as well as outside Egypt, in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne and London, where potential clergymen and other qualified men and women are taught many subjects, among which are theology, church history, missionary studies, and Coptic language.

The current Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark is Pope Shenouda III.

There are about 20 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world. Between 7 and 10 million of them are found in Egypt under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

There are also significant numbers in the diaspora in countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Sudan. The number of Coptic Orthodox Christians in the diaspora is roughly 4 million. In addition, there are between 350,000 and 400,000 native African adherents in East, Central and South Africa. Although under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church, these adherents are not considered Copts, since they are not ethnic Egyptians.

Some accounts regard members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (roughly 45 million), the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (roughly 2.5 million), as members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This is however a misnomer, since both the Ethiopian and the Eritrean Churches, although daughter churches of the Church of Alexandria, are currently autocephalous churches.

In 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was granted its first own Patriarch by Pope Cyril VI. Furthermore, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church similarly became independent of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church in 1994, when four bishops were consecrated by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria to form the basis of a local Holy Synod of the Eritrean Church. In 1998, the Eritrean Church gained its autocephelacy from the Coptic Orthodox Church when its first Patriarch was enthroned by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.

These three churches remain in full communion with each other and with the other Oriental Orthodox churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church do acknowledge the Honorary Supremacy of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, since the Church of Alexandria is technically their Mother Church. Upon their selection, both Patriarchs (Ethiopian & Eritrean) must receive the approval and communion from the Holy Synod of the Apostolic See of Alexandria before their enthronement.

Since the 1980s theologians from the Oriental (Non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox and Eastern (Chalcedonian) Orthodox churches have been meeting in a bid to resolve theological differences, and have concluded that many of the differences are caused by the two groups using different terminology to describe the same thing (see Agreed Official Statements on Christology with the Eastern Orthodox Churches).

In the summer of 2001, the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria agreed to mutually recognize baptisms performed in each other's churches, making re-baptisms unnecessary, and to recognize the sacrament of marriage as celebrated by the other. Previously, if a Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox wanted to get married, the marriage had to be performed twice, once in each church, for it to be recognized by both. Now it can be done in only one church and be recognized by both.

According to Christian Tradition and Canon Law, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria only ordains men to the priesthood and episcopate, and if they wish to be married, they must be married before they are ordained. In this respect they follow the same practices as does the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Traditionally, the Coptic language was used in church services, and the scriptures were written in the Coptic alphabet. However, due to the Arabisation of Egypt, service in churches started to witness increased use of Arabic, while preaching is done entirely in Arabic. Native languages are used, in conjunction with Coptic, during services outside of Egypt.

Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (Gregorian Calendar), which coincides with the 25th of December according to the Julian Calendar. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar as its Ecclesiastical Calendar. It is known as the Coptic calendar or the Alexandrian Calendar. This calendar is in turn based on the old Egyptian calendar of Ancient Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church is thus considered an Old Calendrist Church. Christmas according to the Coptic calendar was adopted as an official national holiday in Egypt since 2002.

A 2010 New Year's Eve attack by Islamic fundamentalists on the Coptic Orthodox Church in the city of Alexandria left 21 dead and many more injured. One week later, thousands of Muslims stood as human shields outside churches as Coptic Christians attended Christmas Masses on January 6 & 7, 2011.

On Jan. 30, just days after the demonstrations to reform the Egyptian government, Muslims in southern Egypt broke into two homes belonging to Coptic Christians. The Muslim assailants murdered 11 people and wounded four others.

In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Wednesday 2 February 2011, Coptic Christians joined hands to provide a protective cordon around their Muslim neighbors during salah (prayers) in the midst of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

Besides Egypt, the Church of Alexandria has jurisdiction over Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa.

Both the Patriarchate of Addis Ababa and all Ethiopia, and the Patriarchate of Asmara and all Eritrea do acknowledge the supremacy of honor and dignity of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria on the basis that both Patriarchates were established by the Throne of Alexandria and that they have their roots in the Apostolic Church of Alexandria, and acknowledge that Saint Mark the Apostle is the founder of their Churches through the heritage and Apostolic evangelization of the Fathers of Alexandria.

In other words, the Patriarchates of Ethiopia and Eritrea are daughter Churches of the Holy Apostolic Patriarchate of Alexandria.

In addition to the above, the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi, Angola, Namibia and South Africa are under the jurisdiction and the evangelization of the Throne of Alexandria. It is still expanding in the vast continent of Africa.

Since the Christianization of Ethiopia in the 4th century, the Church of Ethiopia has come under the dominion of the Church of Alexandria. The first bishop of Ethiopia, Saint Frumentius, was consecrated as Bishop of Axum by Pope Athanasius of Alexandria in 328 AD. From then on, until 1959, the Pope of Alexandria, as Patriarch of All Africa, always named an Egyptian (a Copt) to be the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church. On 13 July 1948, the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church reached an agreement concerning the relationship between the two churches. In 1950, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was granted autocephaly by Pope Joseph II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Five Ethiopian bishops were immediately consecrated by the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, and were empowered to elect a new Patriarch for their church. This promotion was completed when Joseph II consecrated the first Ethiopian-born Archbishop, Abuna Basilios, as head of the Ethiopian Church on 14 January 1951. In 1959, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria crowned Abuna Baslios as the first Patriarch of Ethiopia.

Patriarch Basilios died in 1971, and was succeeded on the same year by Abuna Theophilos. With the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1974, the new Marxist government arrested Abuna Theophilos and secretly executed him in 1979. The Ethiopian government then ordered the Ethiopian Church to elect Abuna Takla Haymanot as Patriarch of Ethiopia. The Coptic Orthodox Church refused to recognize the election and enthronement of Abuna Takla Haymanot on the grounds that the Synod of the Ethiopian Church had not removed Abuna Theophilos, and that the Ethiopian government had not publicly acknowledged his death, and he was thus still legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Formal relations between the two churches were halted, although they remained in communion with each other.

After the death of Abuna Takla Haymanot in 1988, Abune Merkorios who had close ties to the Derg (Communist) government was elected Patriarch of Ethiopia. Following the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, Abune Merkorios abdicated under public and governmental pressure and went to exile in the United States. The newly elected Patriarch, Abune Paulos was officially recognized by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 1992 as the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Formal relations between the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church were resumed on July 13, 2007.

Following the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, the newly independent Eritrean government appealed to Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria for Eritrean Orthodox autocephaly. In 1994, Shenouda ordained Abune Phillipos as first Archbishop of Eritrea. The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church obtained autocephaly on 7 May 1998, and Abune Phillipos was subsequently consecrated as first Patriarch of Eritrea. The two churches remain in full communion with each other and with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, although the Coptic Orthodox Church does not recognize the deposition of the third Patriarch of Eritrea, Abune Antonios.

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