Christmas Message by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia
my source Pravmir.com
PATRIARCH KIRILL OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA | 07 JANUARY 2017
Your Eminences the archpastors, esteemed Fathers and deacons,
all-honourable monks and nuns, dear brothers and sisters!
On this holy night I extend my heartfelt greetings to you all and from the depths of my soul I congratulate you on the great feast of the Nativity of Christ: the feast of the fulfillment of the promises of old for the salvation of the human race, the feast of the ineffable love of the Maker towards his creation, the feast of the coming into the world of the Son of God who is the Messiah.
The Fathers have spoken much over the centuries on the mystery of the Incarnation of God. And now we, as the Fathers before us, hearken to the words of the Church’s prayers and hymns, with reverence listen to Scripture which tells us of this glorious event, and cease not to be amazed at this wondrous miracle.
In his reflections on Christ’s Nativity, St. Symeon the New Theologian writes the following: “God, as he came into the world … united the divine nature with human nature, so that the human person could become god, and that the Most Holy Trinity may mysteriously abide in this person who has become god by grace” (10th Homily). And St. Ephraim the Syrian speaks of the Incarnation of God thus: “Today the Godhead sealed itself upon humanity, that so with the Godhead’s seal humanity might be adorned” (Hymns for the Nativity of Christ).
In attending to these wise words, we ask ourselves: in what manner may we be adorned with this divine seal? How can we attain the likeness of God, to which all people have been called since the creation of the world? How are we to live so that “Christ be formed in us” (Gal 4:19)? The answer is simple: let us observe the commandments of the Saviour. Together with the apostle Paul I address you all, my beloved: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). Cover all things with love and you will find peace and tranquility of soul. Be of generous spirit when forgiving all – and in your hearts there will reign the joy which “no man taketh from you” (Jn 16:22). “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Lk 21:19) – and you will inherit life everlasting.
How important it is that we Christians not only call upon others to follow lofty moral ideals, but endeavour to embody these very same ideals in our everyday lives and in the first instance in ministering to our neighbours. And then by God’s grace we may obtain within ourselves the true fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22-23).
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb 10:24). When we overcome conflict and division, we speak convincingly to the world of the Saviour who is born and in our deeds we testify to the unusual beauty and spiritual power of the Orthodox faith.
We have embarked upon the year 2017. Exactly one hundred years separates us from events which radically transformed the life of Russia – a great multinational country, and plunged her into the madness of civil war, when children rose up against their parents and brother against brother. The subsequent losses and afflictions which our people endured were in many ways determined by the destruction of our thousand year-old statehood and the struggle against the peoples’ religious faith, generating a profound division within society.
With awe and reverence we recall the great endeavours of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Church of Russia, through whose prayers, we believe, the Lord never abandoned our people and granted to it the strength to accomplish many great feats of labour and military feats leading us to victory in the most terrible of all wars, to restoring the country, to achievements which evoke admiration.
We give thanks to God for the miracle he has revealed to the world – the resurrection of faith and piety within our people, for the restoration of holy sites once destroyed, for new churches and monasteries, the construction of which is a visible sign of the profound changes that have taken place in peoples’ hearts.
Over recent decades there have been and there remain today many difficulties and hardships. But they are all transient, and that is why we are not afraid of them. The experience of the past century has taught us many things and is to serve as a warning against many things.
Let us fearlessly tread the paths of salvation, “for God is with us.” Let us be stronger in our faith, “for God is with us.” Let hope assert itself within us, “for God is with us.” Let us grow in love and accomplish good, “for God is with us.”
Let us place all our hope in the Lord, for he is “everlasting strength” (Is 26:4) and, as the apostle Peter testifies, “there is no salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). May the light of Christ illumine all our earthly path, and may this path lead us to the kingdom of heaven, which the Lord has prepared for those who love him.
As I spiritually rejoice today together with all of you who live in various countries, cities and villages, yet making up the one Church of Christ, my prayerful wish is that each of you shall enjoy health of soul and body, peace in your families and success in your labours. And may the Lord and Saviour who was born in Bethlehem grant to each of us the opportunity with renewed strength and with all our heart to feel his presence in our lives.
PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUS
The Nativity of Christ
Orthodox Christmas 2016: Russian, Greek, Serbian And Other Eastern Churches Begin Celebrations
my source: International Business News
|People, wearing traditional Ukrainian clothes, sing folk songs as they celebrate Orthodox Christmas in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Jan. 8, 2015. Photo: YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP/Getty Images|
While Christmas trees and decorations have been taken down in many countries, celebrations are just beginning in others. In Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Israel and several other nations, Orthodox Christians, Greek Catholics and Coptic Christians will celebrate Christmas Wednesday 13 days after the well-known Dec. 25 festivities.
Why is Christmas celebrated Jan. 7? The difference in dates goes back several centuries to when Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The Gregorian calendar has become known as the “Western calendar” and is internationally followed by many governments with Christmas celebrated Dec. 25. The Gregorian calendar was introduced to correct the Julian calendar that was created under the rule of Roman leader Julius Caesar and dates back to 46 B.C. Not all religions have switched over to the Gregorian calendar, which accounts for celebrations on Jan. 7 .
|Putin at Christmas Mass (Photo: Reuters/Alexei )|
Even though the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar to celebrate religious holidays, the country’s government follows the Gregorian calendar, a common occurrence in many countries. Some churches, including the American Orthodox Church, have chosen to use the Revised Julian Calendar which means they celebrate Dec. 25. Armenia Orthodox followers in Israel buck both trends by celebrating Christmas Jan. 18.
Which churches and countries celebrate in January? There are 15 different Eastern Orthodox churches and several, including ones in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia and Macedonia, all celebrate Jan. 7 . Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic churches also celebrate in January. Russia alone is home to 39 percent of the world's Orthodox Christians and over 85 percent of the population chooses to celebrate Christmas in January.
CHRISTMAS FOR REFUGEES
COPTIC ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS
In Egypt about 15% of people are Christians. They are the only part of the population who really celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they have some very unique traditions for Christmas.
Christmas in Egypt
by Nermin Sami and Jimmy Dunn
Egypt celebrates The Nativity (Christmas)
Because of the time the Holy Family spent in Egypt with the infant Jesus, Christmas is a very special celebration in Egypt. In Egypt, Copts, who are Egypt's traditional Christians, have their own Pope who is the head of the Coptic churches of Egypt and the Sudan. Copts consider St. Mark to be their first Pope. He introduced Christianity to Egypt, and for hundreds of years, Alexandria was the home of the Pope. Today his cathedral is in Cairo, where services are usually held in the ancient Coptic language.
A surprising number of Egyptian traditions have survived from ancient Pharonic Egypt, and perhaps one of the most striking is the Coptic calendar. Each of the names of the twelve months in the Coptic calendar retains a vestige of an ancient deity or feast, no doubt reflecting the conservative nature of the inhabitants of the Nile Valley.
Egyptian Orthodox Christians (or Coptic Christians) celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7th, a date equivalent to the 29th day of the Coptic month of "kiohk, or Khiahk", though this date in relation to the western calendar advances over long periods of time. Of course, in many other countries Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, though celebrating Christmas on this date is not unique to the Copts. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church also celebrates Christmas on January 7th. The difference in the dates comes from the difference between the Coptic and Gregorian calendars. This means, for example, that beginning March 1st of 2100 AD, the Coptic Christmas will be celebrated on the 8th day of January in relation to the Western calendar.
In 2004, much of our Tour Egypt staff just happened to be in Egypt during the month of December. We all enjoyed the festive atmosphere that prevails around this time of year, even though Egypt is mostly an Islamic country. We found specialized Christmas stores along 26th of July Street in Zamalek, with belly dancing Santas in the windows, and all over the streets of Cairo were vendors selling Santa hats with blinking lights. Throughout Egypt, Christmas lights and other displays were everywhere. It was fun, as we posed behind a Santa riding a camel in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Allen, our Panama City Salesmanager and his cousin, Rachel in Sharm el-Sheikh during December, 2004
All Coptic feasts come after a period of fasting. A Coptic fast does not means going completely without food for a part of the day. They may eat normally, but the type of food that is consumed is limited to non-animal products. Therefore, meat, fish, eggs and milk are forbidden The fast leading up to Christmas is called "lent fasting", and traditionally lasts for 43 days, celebrating the forty days of fast Moses endured while receiving the Ten Commandments and the three days of fast associated with the miracle of moving the mountain of El Mokattam, a purely Egyptian event.
Christmas shopping at a Christmas Bazaar in Egypt -
Photo from Maryanne Stroud
This fast lasts from November 25th until January 6th (Advent), though the majority of people only fast for the last week when, after the mass of the New Year, Christmas celebrations begin in earnest. This is, of course, a time of great celebration, particularly during the last 30 days which make up the Coptic month of Khiahk, when special holiday season choirs present concerts of Christmas carols with a mixed program of international and Coptic music.
Much of the Christmas celebration actually begins in the last week leading up to Christmas. This is when much of the cooking takes place, and like in the west, homes are decorated with lights and Christmas trees.
Some Christmas trees are real, but many are artificial. One will even find Christmas trees in Coptic operated businesses. Christmas cards are also sent out.
Christmas in Egypt is not nearly as commercial as it is in the west, and indeed, there seems to be a specific effort to make it less commercial. Stores are not nearly as crowded as one might expect. In fact, many gifts are purchased at special Christmas bazaars that support local charities. Other bazaars are more commercial, but still some of their profits usually go to charity.
Nowadays, the Coptic Nativity is celebrated by a special midnight service in the church, followed by the ringing of the church's bells. Some Coptic Christians travel to various churches that are traditionally considered to be situated on the route of the Holy Family as they travelled through Egypt, but the largest service is held by the Coptic Pope in Saint Mark's cathedral in Cairo. This service, usually conducted by the Pope at the 11:00 PM service, is even broadcast on Egyptian TV. However, some services may last from about 9:00 PM until as late as 4:00 AM. Most of the churches are decorated with colored lamps, mangers and angels. Most of the faithful attend church in their newest clothes, and it is a very wonderful experience.
Copts also make special sweet biscuits for the Nativity that are decorated with a cross. In fact, it's the same "kahk" that Muslims make for Eid el fitr. Whether Egyptians are Muslims or Christians, their way in celebration is the same.
In the Egyptian Coptic church, a special bread called "Qurban" is given to people during the service in the church and it is also available outside the church after the service. It is made in very large quantities for the big festivals. Qurban bread is decorated with a cross in the middle, surrounded by twelve dots. Of course, those dots represent the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
After the service, families go home to break their fast and children receive new clothes and gifts. The meal is called fatta, and usually consists of meat and rice.On Christmas morning people visit friends and neighbors. Children are given El 'aidia, a feast gift consisting of a small sum of money to buy sweets, toys and ice cream.
The Nativity (Christmas) in Past
Nothing has changed since Islam came to Egypt in 642. Coptics had, and continue to have, the freedom to practice their religion, including feasts. Even the Fatimid caliphs (who had several Coptic & Jewish palace officials) often encouraged non-Muslim festivals. In fact, the Nativity became one of the main festivals celebrated by both Christians and Muslims. The caliph once distributed special trays of food to princes and officials, especially including dishes of "bouri" (mullet fish) and "Zalabya" (doughnuts).
During the Nativity, churches have always been decorated with special candles and lamps. Copts also gave candles and lamps as gifts to their families, neighbors and friends, as well as to the poor. It is believed that the candles are in memory of Joseph the Carpenter, who lit lamps to protect Mary (The Virgin) from the cold on the night of the Nativity. For many centuries the Nativity was celebrated by performances in the streets and by fire-shows. In the Mamluk times, lamps decorated the streets and candles were everywhere.
Christmas in Egypt is not limited to the Copts. Certainly there are, though limited, a number of other Christian sects in Egypt, some of whom celebrate Christmas on the same day as in the west. However, westerners themselves have a long tradition of spending Christmas in Egypt, and more than a few hotels and other facilities cater to western style Christmas affairs.This all started back in the grand old days of Egyptian travel during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many wealthy Europeans would winter in Egypt. Then, wonderful establishments such as the Mena House would "dress" for Christmas, when the whole ground floor was turned into a winter scene with artificial snow and frosted trees and plants. Log fires would burn merrily in the many fireplaces, while elegantly dressed women, their escorts in full evening dress or splendid uniforms, would continue to arrive until late in the evening.
However, today, many Muslims in Egypt even get into the Christmas spirit. Though they may not celebrate Christmas as directly, it is not unusual for Muslims to participate in some of the celebrations, just as Christians in Egypt sometimes celebrate Muslim holidays. This is really one of the more interesting aspects of Egyptian life, where there is often a surprising amount of interfaith coexistence.
Today, the Christmas season remains a high season in Egypt, a difficult time to find a room at many of the finer hotels, and between the westerners and the Copts, one can enjoy a rather extended "Christmas season".
The birthplace of the Christmas Tree is Egypt, and its origin dates from a period long antecedent to the Christian era. The palm-tree is known to put forth a shoot every month and a spray of this tree with twelve shoots on it was used in Egypt at the time of the winter solstice as a symbol of the year completed.
The palm-tree spray of Egypt, on reaching Italy, became a branch of any other tree (the tip of the fir was found most suitable from its pyramidal or conical shape) and was decorated with burning tapers lit in honor of Saturn, whose saturnalia were celebrated from the 17th to the 21st of December, the period of the winter solstice. Later, this tradition was carried forward for the Christmas season.
ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
my source: St Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church
TMariamhe Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ኦርቶዶክስ ተዋሕዶ ቤተ ክርስቲያን?; Transliterated Amharic: Yäityop'ya ortodoks täwahedo bétäkrestyan) is an Oriental Orthodox Christian church in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Church was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church until 1959, when it was granted its own Patriarch by Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, Cyril VI. It should not be confused with the Ethiopian Catholic Church.
One of the few pre-colonial Christian churches of Sub-Saharan Africa, it has a membership of about 40 million people (45 million claimed by the Patriarch), mainly in Ethiopia, and is thus the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is a founding member of the World Council of Churches.
Tewahedo (Te-wa-hido) (Ge'ez ተዋሕዶ tawāhidō, modern pronunciation tewāhidō) is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one" or "unified".
Tewahedo refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief in the one single unified Nature of Christ; i.e., a belief that a complete, natural union of the Divine and Human Natures into One is self-evident in order to accomplish the divine salvation of humankind, as opposed to the "two Natures of Christ" belief (unmixed, but unseparated Divine and Human Natures, called the Hypostatic Union) promoted by today's Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Henotikon : the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and many others, all refused to accept the "two natures" doctrine decreed by the Byzantine Emperor Marcian's Council of Chalcedon in 451, thus separating them from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox — who themselves separated from one another later on in the East-West Schism (1054).
The Oriental Orthodox Churches, which today include the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Church of India, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, are referred to as "Non-Chalcedonian", and, sometimes by outsiders as "monophysite" (meaning "One Single Nature", in reference to Christ). However, these Churches themselves describe their Christology as miaphysite (meaning "One United Nature", in reference to Christ; the translation of the word "Tewahedo").
The Ethiopian Church claims its earliest origins from the royal official said to have been baptized by Philip the Evangelist (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8):
"Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure." (8:27)
The passage continues by describing how Philip helped the Ethiopian treasurer understand a passage from Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading. After the Ethiopian received an explanation of the passage, he requested that Philip baptize him, and Philip did so. Orthodox Christianity became the established church of the Ethiopian Axumite Kingdom under king Ezana in the 4th century through the efforts of a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known in Ethiopia as Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"). As a youth, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity, causing him to be baptised. Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for Ethiopia. Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself, who returned to Ethiopia as Bishop with the name of Abune Selama.
From then on, until 1959, the Pope of Alexandria, as Patriarch of All Africa, always named an Egyptian (a Copt) to be Abuna or Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church.
The Ethiopian church places a heavier emphasis on Old Testament teachings than one might find in any of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant churches, and its followers adhere to certain practices that one finds in Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Ethiopian Christians, like some other Eastern Christians, traditionally follow dietary rules that are similar to Jewish Kashrut, specifically with regard to how an animal is slaughtered. Similarly, pork is prohibited, though unlike Rabbinical Kashrut, Ethiopian cuisine does mix dairy products with meat. Women are prohibited from entering the Churchchurch during menses; they are also expected to cover their hair with a large scarf (or shash) while in church, per 1 Cor. 11. As with Orthodox synagogues, men and women are seated separately in the Ethiopian church, with men on the left and women on the right (when facing the altar). (Women covering their heads and separation of the sexes in churchhouses officially is common to some Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians, as well as many conservative Protestant and Anabaptist traditions; it also is the rule in some non-Christian religions, Islam among them.) Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers remove their shoes when entering a church, in accordance with Exodus 3:5 (in which Moses, while viewing the burning bush, is commanded to remove his shoes while standing on holy ground). Furthermore, both the Sabbath (Saturday), and the Lord's Day (Sunday) are observed as holy, although more emphasis, because of the Resurrection of Christ, is laid upon Sunday.
Christmas Traditions in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in Africa. It still follows the ancient Julian calendar, so Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church's celebration of Christ's birth is called Ganna. It is a day when families attend church.
The day before Ganna, people fast all day. The next morning at dawn, everyone dresses in white. Most Ethiopians don a traditional shamma, a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends. The shamma is worn somewhat like a toga. Urban Ethiopians might put on white Western garb. Then everyone goes to the early mass at four o'clock in the morning. In a celebration that takes place several days later, the priests will dress in turbans and red and white robes as they carry beautifully embroidered fringed umbrellas.
Few Christian denominations can claim the antiquity of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, whose foundations can be traced back to the very dawn of Christianity. The Church justifiably prides itself as being one of the earliest established apostolic churches. It was in Antioch, after all, that the followers of Jesus were called Christians as we are told in the New Testament, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26).
According to ecclesiastical tradition, the Church of Antioch is the second established church in Christendom after Jerusalem, and the prominence of its Apostolic See is well documented. In his Chronicon (I, 2), the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that St. Peter the Apostle established a bishopric in Antioch and became its first bishop. He also tells us that St. Peter was succeeded by Evodius. In another historical work, Historia Ecclesiastica, Eusebius tells us that Ignatius the Illuminator, “a name of note to most men, [was] the second after Peter to the bishopric of Antioch” (III, 36).
In the mid of the 5th century, the Bishop of Antioch, and his counterparts in Alexandria, Byzantium and Rome, would be called patriarchs. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch used to be known by his own name; however, since 1293 the patriarchs of Antioch adopted the name Ignatius, after the Illuminator. The See of Antioch continues to flourish till our day, with His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I, being the 122nd in the line of legitimate patriarchs.
The patriarchate was forced to move from Antioch in ca. A.D. 518, after a period of turbulent history, to various locations in the Near East until it settled in the monastery Dayro d-Mor Hananya (also known as Kurkmo Dayro, Deir az-Za'faran--Syriac and Arabic respectively for Saffron Monastery) in Mardin, Turkey, during the 13th century. After another period of heinous violence during and after World War I, which took the lives of a quarter million Syriac Orthodox faithful, the patriarchate was transferred to Homs, Syria, in 1933, and later to Damascus in 1957.
The Syriac Orthodox Church is quite unique for many reasons. Firstly, it presents a form of Christianity, which is Semitic in nature, with a culture not far from the one Christ himself experienced. Secondly, it employs in its liturgy the Syriac language, an Aramaic dialect akin to the Aramaic spoken by Christ and the Apostles. Thirdly, its liturgy is one of the most ancient, and has been handed from one generation to another. Fourthly, and most importantly, it demonstrates the unity of the body of Christ by the multiethnic nature of its faithful: A visit to your local Syriac Orthodox Church in Europe or the Americas would demonstrate, for example, the blend of Near Eastern and Indian cultures in the motifs and vestments of clergy. The Syriac Orthodox faithful today live primarily in Middle Eastern countries and the Indian State of Kerala, with many communities in the diaspora.
The Syriac Orthodox Church has been a member of the World Council of Churches since 1960, and is one of the founding members of the Middle East Council of Churches. The Church takes part in ecumenical and theological dialogues with other churches. As a result of these dialogues, the Church has issued two joint declarations with the Roman Catholic Church and another with the Eastern Orthodox churches.
In Syriac, the proper name of the Church is `idto suryoyto treeysath shubho. In the past, the name of the Church had been translated to English as “Syrian Orthodox Church”. The Holy Synod of the Church approved the translation “Syriac Orthodox Church” in its session of March 28-April 3, 2000.
ASSYRIAN CHURCH OF THE EAST
It is not known exactly when Christianity first took root in upper Mesopotamia, but a Christian presence had certainly been established there by the mid-2nd century. In the 3rd century, the area was conquered by the Persians. Although this was to be a multi-ethnic church, the Assyrian people traditionally played a central role in its ecclesial life. Its geographical location caused it to become known simply as “the Church of the East.”
Around the year 300, the bishops were first organized into an ecclesiastical structure under the leadership of a Catholicos, the bishop of the Persian royal capital at Seleucia-Ctesiphon. He later received the additional title of Patriarch.
In the 5th century, the Church of the East gravitated towards the radical Antiochene form of christology that had been articulated by Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, and fell out of communion with the church in the Roman Empire. This was due in part to the significant influx of Nestorian Christians into Persia that took place following the condemnation of Nestorian christology by the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the expulsion of Nestorians from the Roman Empire by Emperor Zeno (474-491). In addition, the Persian Christians needed to distance themselves from the official church of the Roman Empire, with which Persia was frequently at war. In this way they were able to maintain their Christian faith while avoiding suspicions that they were collaborating with the Roman enemy.
Synods in the 5th century also decreed that celibacy should be obligatory for no one in this church, including bishops. A number of bishops and even patriarchs were married until the early 6th century, when the decision was taken to ordain only celibate monks to the episcopate. Priests, however, have always been allowed to marry, even after ordination.
The Church of the East was always a minority in largely Zoroastrian Persia, but nevertheless it flourished for many centuries, with its rich scholarly activity centered on the famous school of Nisibis. The church expanded through missionary activity into areas as far away as India, Tibet, China, and Mongolia. This continued even after the Mesopotamian homeland was conquered by the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century. The Patriarchate was moved to the new city of Baghdad after it became the capital in 766. By 1318 there were some 30 metropolitan sees and 200 suffragan dioceses. But during the invasions of Tamerlane in the late 14th century, these Christians were almost annihilated. By the 16th century, they had been reduced to a small community of Assyrians in what is now eastern Turkey. The church was then further weakened by the formation of a Catholic counterpart known as the Chaldean Catholic Church.
During World War I, the Assyrians suffered massive deportations and massacres at the hands of the Turks who suspected them of supporting the British enemy. About one third of the Assyrian population perished. Most of the survivors fled south into Iraq, hoping to be protected by the British. But in 1933, after the end of the British mandate in Iraq, a clash between Assyrians and Iraqi troops ended in another massacre and a further scattering of the community. The Iraqi authorities then stripped Assyrian Patriarch Mar Simon XXIII of his citizenship and expelled him. He went into exile in San Francisco, California, USA.
A milestone in relations with the Roman Catholic Church was reached on November 11, 1994, when Mar Dinkha IV and Pope John Paul II signed a Common Christological Declaration in the Vatican. The statement affirms that Catholics and Assyrians are “united today in the confession of the same faith in the Son of God…” and envisages broad pastoral cooperation between the two churches, especially in the areas of catechesis and the formation of future priests. The Pope and Patriarch also established a mixed committee for theological dialogue and charged it with overcoming the obstacles that still prevent full communion. It began meeting annually in 1995.
This international theological dialogue between the Assyrians and the Catholic Church as a whole has been accompanied by an improvement in relations between the Assyrian Church of the East and its Catholic counterpart, the Chaldean Catholic Church. In November 1996 Mar Dinkha IV and Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid met in Southfield, Michigan, and signed a Joint Patriarchal Statement that committed their two churches to working towards reintegration and pledged cooperation on pastoral questions such as the drafting of a common catechism, the setting up of a common seminary in the Chicago-Detroit area, the preservation of the Aramaic language, and other common pastoral programs between parishes and dioceses around the world.
On August 15, 1997, the two Patriarchs met again, in Roselle, Illinois, and ratified a “Joint Synodal Decree for Promoting Unity,” that had been signed by the members of both Holy Synods. It restated the areas of pastoral cooperation envisaged in the Joint Patriarchal Statement, recognized that Assyrians and Chaldeans should come to accept each other’s diverse practices as legitimate, formally implemented the establishment of an Assyrian-Chaldean “Joint Commission for Unity,” and declared that each side recognized the apostolic succession, sacraments and Christian witness of the other. The text also spelled out the central concerns of both sides in the dialogue. While both churches wanted to preserve the Aramaic language and culture, the Assyrians were intent on retaining their freedom and self-governance, and the Chaldeans affirmed the necessity of maintaining full communion with Rome.
In mid-1997 it was announced that the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox Church had agreed to establish a bilateral theological dialogue. As a gesture to foster better relations with the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Holy Synod decided in 1997 to remove from the liturgy all anathemata directed against others.
The East Syrian rite of the Assyrian Church appears to have been an independent development from the ancient Syriac liturgy of Edessa. It may also preserve elements of an ancient Persian rite that has been lost. Services are still held predominantly in Syriac.
|Christmas Mass in the Assyrian Church of the East|
The adoption of Christianity by the Assyrians in the latter part of the 1st century led to the harmonization of older community celebrations and commemorations with Christian doctrine as well as the introduction of specifically Christian religious holidays. This dual nature of many of the religious feasts lends a unique flavor to Assyrian celebrations and to the Assyrian community in Persia, which includes those belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East, commonly called Nestorian, as well as those who have converted to Catholicism or Protestantism. Most, but not all of these celebrations are also observed by the other Assyrians of the Middle East who live or lived west of Persia and belong to the sister church, the Assyrian Orthodox Church, commonly called Jacobite. Religious feasts usually follow fasts, of which there are a great many in the original Assyrian church calendars. For most church members a fast entails restriction of the diet to avoid meat and animal products rather than total abstinence from food during particular parts of the day, as in the case of fasting in Islam. During festivals that break the fast, animal products form an essential part of the meal.
ʿĒdā Ṣūrā (Little Festival—Christmas). The celebrations of the birth of Jesus begin with church programs consisting of music, dramatic presentations of the nativity and the arrival of the magi, Christmas carols, and readings from the Bible, particularly from the Psalms, by children. Friends and family visit and exchange felicitations. The traditional Christmas breakfast consists of a hearty dish (harīsa, q.v.) made with hulled wheat and poultry, cooked slowly overnight and served with a topping of dried, toasted, then crushed coriander seed and melted butter. Early in the morning adult members of the family gather to beat the mixture into a smooth, glutinous mass in which the meat and the wheat should be indistinguishable. The beating of the contents of the pot, usually a fairly large cauldron, is done with wooden sticks. Breakfast usually follows the early morning church service, and visitors may be served from the family harīsa pot, thus creating an informal competition for the best harīsa that year. As most Assyrians now use the Gregorian calendar, this holiday takes place on 25 December. A few churches continue to hold to the Julian calendar and celebrate Christmas twelve days later than the Gregorian equivalent.
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.' And lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2:1-11, RSV)
The Armenian Church celebrates the holy birth (Sourp Dznount) of Jesus Christ on January 6. In Armenian tradition, this feast day commemorates not only the birth of Christ, but also His baptism by John the Baptist. The latter is remembered through the "Blessing of Water" ceremony, which follows the Divine Liturgy on January 6.
On the eve of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Jrakalouyts Divine Liturgy (the lighting of the lamps service) is celebrated in honor of the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God (theophany). It is custom for the faithful to hold lit candles during this special service.
On the following day, the mystery of our Lord's baptism in the River Jordan is remembered in the ceremony of the Jurorhnek, or the "Blessing of Water."
In ancient times, this ceremony was celebrated by the riverside or sea shore, but, for various reasons, it was later confined to the interior of the churches. During the ceremony, the cross is dipped in water, recalling Christ's immersion in the Jordan River. Blessed oil, or Holy Chrism (Muron), is poured into the water from a dove-shaped container, symbolizing the appearance at the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father proclaiming to all that Jesus is His Son.
The Holy Chrism is prepared in Holy Etchmiadzin and is blessed by the Catholicos assisted by the bishops. Muron contains olive oil, balsam and the essence of forty different flowers and herbs. At the end of the ceremony, members of the congregation are given the blessed water to drink, thereby sharing in the life giving act of Christ. As water is essential to the life of the body, drinking the blessed water is a reminder that participation in the acts of Christ is essential for eternal life.
Why January 6?
Even at the time of the Holy Apostles, the traditions in the Christian churches in the different parts of the world were not uniform. In fact, Christmas was probably not observed at all in the very early Church. Later, the mysteries of the birth and baptism of Jesus Christ began to be observed on January 6.
By the end of the 3rd century, Christmas in Rome was celebrated on December 25, which coincided with a major pagan feast. The Eastern churches, meanwhile, continued to observe Christmas on January 6. The Armenian Church has maintained that ancient tradition to this day, whereas the Greek-speaking Christian world switched to the Latin tradition at the end of the 4th century.
Armenian-American households may exchange Christmas gifts on December 25, since it is the custom in American society to do so. In some of our churches in the United States, it has become traditional to observe the feast of St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr on Christmas Eve (December 24), though that feast is movable and may not always fall on December 24.
If possible, the faithful should fast during the seven-day period preceding January 6, and should inform their children that they are fasting as a way of preparation for Christmas. On the evening of January 5, families should attend church and participate in the celebration of the Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy. They should do the same on the morning of January 6.
A HAPPY AND HOLY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL! ! CHRIST IS BORN & DWELLS AMONG US!!