"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 19 November 2016



The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, commonly referred to as the Feast of Christ the King, is a relatively recent addition to the Western liturgical calendar, having been instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI for the Roman Catholic Church. In 1970 its Roman Catholic observance was moved to the final Sunday of Ordinary Time. Therefore, the earliest date on which it can occur is 20 November and the latest is 27 November. The Anglican, Lutheran, and many other Protestant churches adopted it along with the Revised Common Lectionary. It is also observed on the same computed date as the final Sunday of the ecclesiastical year, the Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent, by Western rite parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.[1] Roman Catholics adhering to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as permitted under the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum use the General Roman Calendar of 1960, and as such continue to observe the Solemnity on its original date of the final Sunday of October.

FIRST READING            2 Samuel 5:1-3

In those days, all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said:  “Here we are, your bone and your flesh.  In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.  And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.'”  When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD, and they anointed him king of Israel.

SECOND READING             Colossians 1:12-20

Brothers and sisters:  Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.  He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

GOSPEL                Luke 23:35-43

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”  Even the soldiers jeered at him.  As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”  Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”  Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.”  The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

In the Church there is only one kind of authority and that is service, and only one kind of power and that is the Cross. (Pope Francis)

(Abbot Philip of "Christ in the Desert")

My sisters and brothers,

Christ the King!  So many of us no longer have any sense of what it means to have a king over us, a ruler who makes all of the important decisions, a ruler who truly cares of us and seeks the good of the people.  The readings today are based on an understanding of kingship that no longer exists in our world, for the most part.
Yet we are invited to consider how Christ is our King and how He comes into our lives as a king, but as a servant king.  Jesus Christ is a king who seeks only our good and the good of all.  Jesus is a king who guides us from humility, not from power.  Jesus has all power and all might and all majesty, but willingly puts all of that aside to become one of us and to sacrifice His life for us.
The first reading today is from the Second Book of Samuel and recounts how David became King of Israel.  David became king because the people wanted a king other than the God of Heaven.  Nevertheless, the great God of Heaven allowed the people to have a king.  David was truly a wonderful king, even in his sinfulness.  What was most important was his love for the God of Heaven.
Our King is the God of Heaven and yet this great God of Heaven has come to us as a human, yet without sin.  God humbles Himself to save us.
The second reading is from the Letter to the Colossians.  This passage describes exactly how Jesus is King of all—again by humbling Himself.  This one phrase expresses the whole of the mystery:  “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him.”  Jesus is all and yet allows Himself to be killed for us so that we might live.  This is a king willing to give His life for His people.
The Gospel of Luke today gives us the account of the crucifixion of Jesus.  This is true kingship:  dying for the people.  So many still do not recognize that leadership, kingship, can be expressed in humility.  Power comes in weakness.  The true leader dies for his people.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Philip

Monday 14 November 2016



I accepted a two-week holiday in Ukraine with a certain amount of hesitation because up till then I had done nothing to offend members of the Russian Orthodox Church, many of whom are my friends, for whose church and tradition I have the greatest respect and affection. What makes the situation problematic is that the schism between Orthodoxy and the "Greek Catholics" is still an open wound, still hurting and  still bleeding,  especially for the Russians.   

It does not help that, for all their wonderful liturgy and spirituality, their incomparable Russian novels and their delightful hospitality, so many Russian Orthodox seem to have a peculiar interpretation of history, more like propaganda than history, with no  attempt to see the other side.   Even people like Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk who studied at Oxford seem unable to admit that that there are more sides to the argument than theirs and that Greek Catholics of the Ukraine are as much victims of injustice and cruelty as anybody else in this sad story.

I was met at Kiev airport by a seminarian called Oleg.  He wore an Eastern-style cassock with a cloth belt and  on his wrist a chotki  (an Orthodox rosary, sometimes called a "Jesus rosary" in the West because it is used in a continuous invocation of the name "Jesus").  He is obvious very competent, and he spent the time between my arrival and my night train showing me around Kiev in a car.  We also had an excellent meal of borsch and Ukrainian salad before he bundled me into the train for a six-hour journey to Lviv.

Oleg, besides studying theology, spends some of his spare time as a member of a movement of young people who, in the the spirit of Jean Vanier and L'Arche, befriend and accompany mentally handicapped people. The movement in Kiev has three chaplains, two Catholic priests and one Orthodox (of the Kiev Patriarchate - more about that later).

Kiev is a very beautiful city.   Its majestic buildings, wide avenues and glorious churches uplift the heart.   Also, while there is quite a lot of traffic during the day, in the evening, at least in the parts that Brother Oleg showed me, the traffic was very light, and there was none of the bustling chaos that is a characteristic of night life in all the other capitals that I have known.   Perhaps the people are not accustomed to a night life, or perhaps money is scarce and they let their hair down only at the weekend.
Oleg eventually took me to the train for Lviv, (or Lvov for the Russians).   At the entrance to the station is a Macdonalds which, he told me, delivers more fast food than any other Macdonalds in Europe.  I had difficulty climbing the stairs up into the train and had to be helped by Oleg and a passer by.  I was given a bottom bunk and passed an uneasy six hours ride to Lviv.
Father Panteleimon is on the right
We are in the Basilian noviciate

Father Panteleimon  met me at Lviv railway station.   He is a Basilian monk and was wearing their habit which looks like an Oratorian or Redemptorist habit, with a white, open collar, standard clerical dress in the West two centuries ago.  Round his waist he wore a leather belt.  (On Sunday and feastdays, they wear a black hood and cloak which is the equivalent of a cowl)
Father Panteleimon (nearest) with Basilian students in the chapel

The late Father Dyfrig, a member of my community, a close friend of Father Panteleimon and also a friend of mine, told me that there are two tendencies in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.   One is "Catholics of Byzantine Rite" whose theology and attitudes are very much the same as their western counterparts, even though they celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite.   If they are Basilian monks, they wear a wide black sash round the waist.   Then there are "Orthodox in union with Rome" whose theology, spirituality and mind-set are typically Orthodox except for the fact that they are in union with Rome; and,  if they are Basilians, they wear a leather belt.   Father Panteleimon wears a leather belt but told me that there is no such clear cut difference between sash wearers and those who wear a belt. 

Father Panteleimon is from Donbas, in Eastern Ukraine where the fighting is.  He is half Russian and half Ukrainian and was baptised and brought up Russian Orthodox  His parents are academics, as is he.  According to Father Dyfrig, when he expressed the wish to embrace the monastic life, it was to be in some Russian Orthodox monastery; but his parents told him that there is a problem he should look at before he entered a monastery: it was the conflicting claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.   He followed their advice which resulted in him joining the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the monastic Basilian Order.  

He met me as I was collecting my things ready to get off the train and drove me to the seminary of the order of which he is rector.

Lviv is another beautiful city with its parks, fine buildings, monasteries and churches. "Ukraine", I was told, means "borderland", and there is no city so much a border than Lviv.  It was founded as a city in 1256 but was raised to the ground by the Taters only a few years later.  It was rebuilt in 1270 and became capital of Galicia-Volhinia. 

 Very soon, it became a centre  of trade, and Poles, Germans and Armenians settled there.   In 1323, the city passed to Boleslaus of Masovia who became Orthodox.  The local nobility were not in agreement, so they poisoned him.   He died in 1340 and the city passed by inheritance to King Casimir III of Poland.  Then followed a bewildering succession of invasions and squabbles until it settled down as a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  There were three cathedrals, Roman Catholic (Latin), Greek Catholic and Armenian.  Apart from being sacked by the Swedes during the war with the Taters, Lviv continued under Poland until it was annexed by Austria in 1772 under its German name of Lemburg.  It became a typical city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, it could easily be mistaken for an Austrian city.

In 1910, there was a census by the Austrian government: 51% of the population were Roman Catholics, 28% were Jews, and 19% were Greek Catholics.   86% spoke Polish and 11% preferred to speak Ukrainian.   There were no Orthodox parishes, all Eastern rite churches being Greek Catholic, though they had been Orthodox under the Constantinople before the Union of Brest in 1595.

After the first World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to an end and, eventually Lviv became part of Poland and this lasted until the Russians and Germans attacked as allies, though their alliance was short-lived.  Lviv was first occupied by the Russians and then, in 1941, by the Germans.   Some western Ukrainians rejoiced at the German takeover and even joined the German army; but others, perhaps the majority, took part in a guerilla war against both Russians and Germans.  When the Russians took over at the end of World War II,it became part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, and Stalin decided to wipe out the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
This was done with a ruthlessness and a cruelty that was Stalin's trademark.   All the bishops were either dead or imprisoned or in exile.  An uncanonical synod of Lviv in 1946 cancelled the Union of Brest; priests who did not obey the new situation were imprisoned, tortured or even murdered  and people were loaded into cattle trucks and sent to concentration camps.  Churches that had been Greek Catholic since 1595  became Orthodox.   All this was reversed once Gorbachov allowed freedom of religion.

My first visit was to the Greek Catholic cathedral of St George.  There had been a church there since 1280 which was destroyed by the Poles in 1340, after which a Byzantine church was built.   In July, 1700, the local bishop here proclaimed union with the Holy See in this church, formally accepting the Union of Brest (1595).    The present church began in 1746, and it became the metropolitan church for the whole Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Following the Second World War, Soviet authorities began persecuting the UGCC, imprisoning the newly ordained Archbishop of Lviv, Josyf Slipyj, in 1945, as well as the rest of the church hierarchy. In March 1946, the cathedral hosted the Synod of Lviv, which nullified the Union of Brest. A young Volodymyr Sterniuk (future archbishop and leader of the UGCC) concealed in the church loft, witnessed the decision to enjoin the Metropolinate of Halychyna with the Russian Orthodox Church, along with the rest the catholic parishes across Soviet Ukraine. The Cathedral was reconsecrated as Saint Yury's, and became the mother church of the Lvіv-Ternopіl diocese.

The UGCC reemerged in 1989, when it was recognized by the Soviet authorities in the midst of Perestroika, and began to reclaim parishes which they had ceded 45 years earlier. On August 12, 1990, members of the nationalistic People's Movement of Ukraine party occupied and commandeered the cathedral. Two days later, the governing council of the Lviv Oblast recognized UGCC's claim of the cathedral, and it has remained a centre for the UGCC throughout the early years of Ukraine's independence until 2005 when the head of the UGCC moved his seat to the nation's captial, Kiev (more later).

My guide, Brother Matthew of the Basilians, directed my attention to the wonder-working icon of Our Lady, which is one reason why people visit the cathedral.   Also on display was a large copy of the Holy Shroud of Turin (my guide in his Basilian habit is just in the picture):
Down a steep staircase is a crypt in which the major archbishops of the UGCC are buried.  People were visiting the graves with great devotion as to saints.  
another church, another miraculous icon

We then went on to visit other greek catholic churches before returning to the monastery.  I asked how, on independence, it was decided which churches should be returned to the Catholics, and which would be retained by the Orthodox.  Many became Catholic when the clergy left the Orthodox Church and became Catholics: this was quite common: the churches were originally made Orthodox by force, so that, when it was no longer obligatory, they reverted.  A monk pointed out one church where the change was messy, and there had been a court case.  However, on the whole, the transition was relatively peaceful.  It may have been different in other parts of Ukraine.

The Basilian monks are building a very beautiful church in classical Byzantine style in their seminary, but it is taking a long time due to lack of funds.
Divine Liturgy (Mass) in the seminary.

  Meanwhile, they have a modern chapel at the end of the refectory where they sing their Office and celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

  I concelebrated every day: I have the hang of it by now and can celebrate prayerfully without losing my place.  I find no contrast between my normal Mass and the Divine Liturgy, nor do I celebrate in a different spirit; but the experience of celebrating in the Byzantine rite certainly adds to my devotion when I am celebrating my ordinary Mass in English or Spanish: it has a lasting effect.  God is Good!!
Dr Roman Zaviyskyy, Me, Fr Panteleimon

One day, Father Panteleimon, Brother Pio and I went to visit Dr Roman Zaviyskyy who was another close friend of Father Dyfrig at Belmont.   He has a doctorate in theology of Oxford University and is Dean of the Philosophy and Theology Faculty of the Ukrainian Catholic University.   Here is his account of recent Ukrainian Catholic history:
What struck me was the beauty of the icons in the modern faculty chapel:
faculty chapel
We were invited to be present at the consecration of the new university church.  It isn't finished yet, still needing the icons, iconostasis etc.  However, it has good lines, and I much prefer it to the new cathedral in Kiev, but of that, more later.  The episcopal synod of the UGCC was meeting in Lviv when I arrived, and the consecration of the  new church was the final closing event. I was placed just behind the bishops:

Because we had time, we visited a small wooden church with very interesting "royal doors" - the central double doors leading directly to the holy table or throne (altar).  They show Jesse from whose body grows his rod which flowers at the top of the doors, producing a cross that signifies Christ.  Between Jesse and Christ there are depicted Christ's royal ancestors who descended from Jesse.
Great Vespers at the Lavra of the Holy Dormition

At the consecration of the church, I met for the first time the abbot and one of the monks of the Univ Lavra of the Dormition.  They are Ukrainian Catholic monks of the Studite Rule, and their aim is to be as authentic monasteries of the Eastern Orthodox tradition as possible.A couple of days later, I went to stay there in the company of Father Manuil who had stayed in Belmont for two extended periods.  Later, he was to be my guide in Kiev.
Lavra Univ of the Dormition
Most of the monks were on retreat in another monastery, so only a skeleton crew was present.  Here we are in the refectory:
Father Manuil is next to me.  Following the Orthodox tradition, there is a fully blown church sanctuary in the refectory, thus showing the connection between liturgy and the ordinary rite of eating:
Here is a photo of Hieromonks Manuil, Makary and myself.

The community is quite large, and there is at least one recluse who rarely leaves his cell.   Twenty members of the community were martyred in Stalin's purge, while others spent much time in gulags; and there is a glass case in which small chalices etc are shown: they were used for the secret celebration of the Divine Liturgy during the persecution.

The monastery originally came into being for the holy well dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.  A smattering of people come in dribs and drabs all the time to collect the water for all kinds of purposes; and there are large pilgrimages which draw thousands.  
The blessing of water on August 1st
One such is on the feast of the Dormition (the Assumption of Our Lady) in which there is the ceremony of the Burial of Our Lady, her death and assumption into heaven being THE perfect example of what happens to Christians when they die.  The festivity begins at the beginning of August when the abbot placed a crucifix three times into a large container of water.  This reminds us of what happens on the feast of the Theophany (Epiphany).  The latter feast celebrates the Baptism of Christ: on the 1st of August, they celebrate our own baptism, in which we share in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Then follows a strict fast which ends with the Burial of the Mother of God, though many forget to fast nowadays.  Here is the funeral procession of Our Lady:

Then there is the entombment:

Some will be surprised that there should be such a ceremony in the Byzantine liturgy as "The Burial of the Theotokos".  There is a pious belief in the West that Mary did not die.  This is what happens when either East or West regard their own Tradition as the whole and speculate in their own terms as though the other Tradition is not properly Catholic.   Pope St John Paul II said:

Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a common tradition actually exists which sees Mary's death as her entry into heavenly glory.
2. Could Mary of Nazareth have experienced the drama of death in her own flesh? Reflecting on Mary's destiny and her relationship with her divine Son, it seems legitimate to answer in the affirmative: since Christ died, it would be difficult to maintain the contrary for his Mother.
The Fathers of the Church, who had no doubts in this regard, reasoned along these lines. One need only quote St Jacob of Sarug (d. 521), who wrote that when the time came for Mary "to walk on the way of all generations", the way, that is, of death, "the group of the Twelve Apostles" gathered to bury "the virginal body of the Blessed One" (Discourse on the burial of the Holy Mother of God, 87-99 in C. Vona, Lateranum 19 [1953], 188). 

My Visit to Fr Manuil's Parents

My last visit in Western Ukraine was to the parents of Father Manuil.  His Father was brought up Russian Orthodox and studied for the priesthood in Russia.  When the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church became legal, he and his village became Greek Catholic automatically.  After all, they had been made Orthodox by force.

I did not have the opportunity to ask him why he "poped", as the Anglicans would say.  He is certainly a patriotic Ukrainian, as is his son.   In fact, he is a military chaplain and proudly showed me his uniform which had been a gift from the British Army.  He was off the next week on a military pilgrimage.  He clearly resents Russia, but wasn't too keen on Poland either.  He sees the Eastern Catholic Church as the church of western Ukraine.   Of course, he has no problem with Catholic teaching either.

Travelling through the countryside, we went through village after village, and practically all were Catholic, with their Byzantine village church, some quite modern, all very beautiful, like the one in the picture.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, while I was enjoying Ukrainian hospitality, said at the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue at Chieti in September 2016:
“The actions of the Greek Catholics in Ukraine and their aggressive rhetoric aimed against (targeting) the Orthodox Church indicate (show) that the Unia remains a bleeding wound on the body of Christendom and the main stumbling block in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.”

The tragedy of Catholic-Orthodox schism is that, when it occurred, and whenever it occurred because it didn't all happen at once, neither side was conscious of any break with its past, any change of belief, any difference of teaching.  Each side blamed the other  for the split and regarded itself as the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church", and there was nothing in its own experience to contradict this assumption.  Each  saw the obvious bad effects of schism in the other church and saw only continuity in its own from apostolic times to the present day.

Under these sad circumstances, with each church making such exclusive claims, it made sense when the parents of Father Panteleimon told him that he had to decide between the competing claims of Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  The  Union of Brest (1595-6) and the activities by the Russian government in the nineteenth and early twentieth century pre-suppose this stark alternative between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  Actually, with Ukraine being the borderland between Western Europe and the Eastern Slav lands, where western influences melt into Russian ones, it is not surprising that the Ukrainian Catholic Church should exist with characteristics of both.

Metropolitan Hilarion wants a solemn repudiation of the Union of Brest.  Personally, I would be against any move to question the UGCC's right to exist.  It is a sui iuris local church  which won its right to exist by martyrdom.  I believe that any repudiation by the Catholic Church of the Brest Union must also affirm the UGCC's right to exist and contain a repudiation by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Lviv Synod (March 6-10, 1946) which was a far more unchristian, cruel and reprehensible affair than what happened at Brest.

In fact, both churches need a healing of memories, forgiving one another, and embracing one another in ecumenical love.   While I was there I asked fellow monks how they came to be Catholics - most were baptised in the Orthodox Church.  All of them pointed to the influence of members of their families.  I had been told that the major reason why Orthodoxy survived the years of persecution in Russia was that, traditionally, Orthodoxy is passed down from one generation to the next within the family  rather than by parish catechesis.   The same was true in the Ukraine in the UGCC.   Metropolitan Hilarion stoops to propaganda and calls it  history.

The next post will tell of my visit to Kiev.   One of my chief reasons for going to Ukraine was to visit the Caves monastery,   An Orthodox nun from St Elizabeth's Convent in Minsk had given me an icon of holy founders of this monastery, and the icon hangs with others in my monastic cell.  I think I have come to know the two saints, and I wanted to visit their monastery.  Until next time, God Bless.

Sunday 6 November 2016


By Andrea Gagliarducci

Minya, Egypt, Jul 19, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Christians in Egypt, the possibility of martyrdom is not a remote one.

“It is something they concretely feel, it is part of their Christian life,” Father Paolo Asolan, an Italian priest who recently visited Egypt, told CNA. “And for a mother and a father, the fact that one of their sons can become a martyr is always a great gift.”

The Islamic State’s beheading of 20 Coptic Christians and another man shocked the world in February 2015 when video of the murders on a Mediterranean beach became public. The other man was a non-Christian who reportedly professed belief in the Christian God before his death.

During a recent trip to Egypt, Fr. Asolan met the family of one of the Coptic Christians. He visited the village of al-Our in the north-central Egyptian province of Minya. From this province came 13 of the 21 people beheaded.

Al-Our is a small farming community of some 6,000 Muslims and Christians, located about 90 miles from Cairo.

There the priest met the family of Milad Makeen Zaky, who was the first martyr seen praying in the video.

“I was struck by the fact that, before he died, he was praying the name of Jesus,” Fr. Asolan said. “He died speaking the name of Jesus, and that was the very last act of a life that witnessed Jesus in every moment.”

This faithfulness to Christ, Fr. Asolan added, is proved by many details in his life.

“When the Islamic State militants came to seize him, Milad had just finished his daily one-hour meditation over the Sacred Scriptures… at the beginning of the day, he always spent at least one hour reading the Gospel,” the priest recounted.

Fr. Asolan heard from Milad’s mother several anecdotes about his life. She said that it was “as if her son was preparing her for his martyrdom.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church has proclaimed the 21 men to be martyrs. Their beheading shocked Egyptian society.

Fr. Asolan said that “a church for the martyrs” is being built in al-Our. It is completely funded by the Egyptian president, a noteworthy fact because the construction of a new church is highly restricted. It requires specific authorization from the president’s office, which the priest said is “often difficult to obtain.”

Egypt’s Coptic Christians represent between 10 and 20 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million.

Fr.  Asolan is a professor of pastoral theology at the Pontifical Lateran University. He said that the faith of Coptic Christians is based on the twin pillars of monasticism and martyrdom.

“Travelling through Egypt, there are many burials of martyrs. These same Christians used to tattoo a cross on their wrist,” he said.

I felt peace knowing that they died as martyrs in the name of Christ,” says Bashir Estefanous Kamel, 32, whose two younger brothers and one cousin were among the victims. Kamel says he watched the video depicting the men’s execution as soon as it was available. “Of course, the first reaction was sadness at being separated from family.”

Like tens of thousands of other Egyptians, Kamel’s brothers, Bishoi Estefanous Kamel, 25, and Samuel Estefanous Kamel, 22, had gone to Libya in search of work they could not find at home. Even in recent years of turmoil, Libya’s oil-based economy continued to draw workers, especially from Egypt’s poorer regions. In al-Our, average residents earn between $3 and $4 a day. “It’s a hard life,” says Bashir Kamel. “If you don’t work all day, you don’t eat at night.”

Both brothers had completed two years of university, earning diplomas in industry and agriculture respectively, but could not find gainful employment in Minya. A few months after completing his mandatory military service, Samuel followed his older brother to Libya, where they worked as laborers in the city of Sirt, living among other Egyptian workers.

The night of the release of the execution video, the village priest, Father Makar Issa went from house to house in an attempt to comfort the families. “There was wailing in every street, every alleyway,” he says. “People were shocked.”

According to Issa, his congregants’ sorrow gave way, within days, to a kind of joy expressed at the men’s martyrdom. On the third day after the video, people gathered in the church. “The women were congratulating each other,” he says. As they left the church, women ululated.

“I am certain it had a positive effect, not a negative effect,” says Issa. “In the month and a half when the people were kidnapped, the whole congregation was coming to the church to pray for their return, but in their prayers later on, they asked that if they died, they die for their faith, and that’s what happened. The congregation is actually growing, psychologically and spiritually.”

7 of the martyrs had been "garbage children", spiritual children of Mama Maggie Cabron


The brutal beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS terrorists shocked the world. But almost as worldview shattering was the strong faith of the victims, even in the face of certain death. Now we know where their faith may have came from.

Her name is Mama Maggie. She's a Coptic Christian who, though she has never taken formal vows, is known as the Mother Teresa of Cairo. For two decades she has served the children in Egypt's slums through her organization, Stephen's Children, named after the first century Christian martyr.

Seven of the men who were beheaded came out of her schools. Five of them she knew by name.

As far as I can tell, Miriam begins her youtube life as a 10 year old Assyrian Christian girl from Qiraqosh in Iraq, a refugee from ISIS, a Catholic of the Chaldean Church, involved, I suspect, with the Charismatic Renewal.
The mass flight and expulsion of ethnic Assyrians from Iraq is a process which initiated from the beginning of Iraq War in 2003 and continues to this day. Leaders of Iraq's Assyrian community estimate that over two-thirds of the Iraqi Assyrian population may have fled the country or been internally displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 until 2011. Reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Assyrians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Basra, and that both Sunni and Shiite insurgent groups and militias have threatened Assyrian Christians.[23] Following the campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq in August 2014, one quarter of the remaining Iraqi Assyrians fled the Jihadists, finding refuge in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.[24]

Fall of Mosul and the Ninewa Plain[edit]
Main articles: Fall of Mosul, Northern Iraq offensive (August 2014), and Assyrians in Iraq
After the fall of Mosul, ISIS demanded Assyrian Christians in the city to convert to Islam, pay tribute, or face execution, by July 19, 2014.[25][26][27][28][29] ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi further noted that Christians who do not agree with those terms must "leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate" within a specified deadline.[28][29] This resulted in a complete Assyrian Christian exodus from Mosul, marking the end of 1600 years of continuous Christian presence.[30] A church mass was not held in Mosul for the first time in 1,800 years.[31]

ISIL has already set similar rules for Christians for other cities and towns, including its de facto capital Al-Raqqah.[13][32] However, on 29 March 2016, ISIL issued a decree preventing Christians from leaving one of its cities, Al-Raqqah.[33]

ISIS had also been seen marking Christian homes with the letter nūn for Nassarah ("Christian").[34][35] Several religious buildings were seized and subsequently demolished, most notably Mar Behnam Monastery.[36]

By August 7, ISIS captured the primarily Assyrian towns of Qaraqosh, Tel Keppe, Bartella, and Karamlish, prompting the residents to flee.[37][38] More than 100,000 Iraqi Christians were forced to flee their homes and leave all their property behind after ISIS invaded Qaraqosh and surrounding towns in the Nineveh Plains Province of Iraq.[39]

In early November 2014, a horrifying "price list" for Yazidi and Christian females surfaced online. While human rights NGO Defend International immediately verified the document's authenticity,[40] UN official Zainab Bangura didn't confirm it to be genuine before August 2015.[41]

On 23 February 2015, in response to a major Kurdish offensive in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, ISIL abducted 150 Assyrians from villages near Tell Tamer in northeastern Syria, after launching a large offensive in the region.[45][46]

According to US diplomat Alberto M. Fernandez, of the 232 of the Assyrians kidnapped in the ISIS attack on the Assyrian Christian farming villages on the banks of the Khabur River in Northeast Syria, 51 were children and 84 women. "Most of them remain in captivity with one account claiming that ISIS is demanding $22 million (or roughly $100,000 per person) for their release."[14]

On 8 October, ISIL released a video showing three of the Assyrian men kidnapped in Khabur being executed. It was reported that 202 of the 253 kidnapped Assyrians were still in captivity, each one with a demanded ransom of $100,000.[47]

Miriam forgives her enemies

Besides  belonging to the Middle East, what have the 21 martyrs, Mama Maggie and the little girl Miriam have in common?
Firstly, they are all "Oriental Christians".  There are basically three traditions which go back to the time of the apostles, each with its own Christian culture, its own theological characteristics, and each with its own historic relationship with the Byzantine Empire.  There is the Greek Church which is really the Church of the Eastern Empire with its capital in Istanbul.  There is the Latin West over which the Byzantine Emperor ruled theoretically but which he was unable to control and had thus to depend on its own resources to function.  Finally, there is Oriental Christianity, with its main centre in Antioch, speaking Aramaic, Christ's own language, rather than Greek, and which preferred from the beginning to express its theology in poetry and hymns rather than concepts.

 A large part of Syria belonged to the Persian Empire rather than to the Greek, and its bishops tended to be overlooked when invitations to ecumenical councils were concerned, nor did they share a theological vocabulary with the Greeks.  Because of the large number of Jewish converts to Christianity in Alexandria and Ethiopia, and because Egypt saw itself on the peryphery of the Empire and eventually separated from it civilly and ecclesiastically, the Christianity of Egypt and Ethiopia is also part of Oriental Christianity.  All the Christians in this post are Oriental Christians.   Even though Miriam belongs to a church that is in communion with Rome, it retains its semitic spirituality and liturgy, and persecution has formed strong practical links of mutual support between it and the church that isn't in communion with Rome.
In each of these cases, the radical and authentic nature of their Christian commitment shines through their actions and words.  It is for this reason that all are bearing witness to the living Christ in a powerful way.
It is also worthy of note the extent to which their authentic spirituality is sustained by a regular reading of Scripture; and all are conscious that the Holy Spirit speaks to them through this lectio divina.   They have learned to listen to God on a regular basis before they speak to us by their words of actions.  This gives a freshness and authority to their words.

If only we British were generous enough, Christian enough, human enough, to welcome more victims of ISIL to our shores.   How much richer would be our own spirituality if the likes of the 21 martyrs, Mama Maggie and Miriam came to Britain!

Nevertheless, God is Good, and thousands of Oriental Christians have managed to come to Britain before Virginia May could slam the door.   It is true that they are not from the Middle East but from Kerala in Southern India and are descendents of people converted to Christianity by the Apostle Thomas.  They are spiritual cousins of Miriam and the Chaldean Patriarchate; they are of the Assyrian rite in communion with Rome.   They tend to show the same characteristics as their Middle Eastern brethren:

Their  radical commitment to Christ shines out in their words and their actions.They sustain their faith with a regular reading of Scripture so that, like Mama Maggie, like Miriam, they know they are taught by  the Holy Spirit: they learn to listen before they speak.Like the 21 martyrs, they know they are where they are to bear witness; which is why they do what what they do.


The Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich has been echoing with prayer and praise every second Saturday of the month, as some 3,000 Catholics gather to pray, celebrate Mass and glorify God together.

The Second Saturday Conventions started two years ago when the charismatic Fr Soji Olikkal, who came to the UK in 2009 to minister to Syro-Malabar Catholics, started running retreats in his parish at Balsall Common. Initially these attracted some 50 – 80 Catholics. However, the numbers dramatically increased, so the venue was changed first to St Catherine’s in Birmingham, and then to the Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich as thousands of Catholics from the Syro-Malabar community all over the country started to attend on a regular basis. The Convention is designed to be attractive to all the family and there can be up to 1,000 children. The Children’s ministries are a very important part of the day.

There is a very full programme of events starting with the rosary at 8 am although most people arrive around 9 o’clock for the lively praise and worship session, well before the start of Mass at 9.45. Children’s groups are run from 11.15, when the main conference listens to inspiring teaching and testimonies. In the afternoon there are further testimonies and talks plus a time of adoration and procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Although the day finishes officially at 4pm, many people stay on to receive prayer ministry. It is wonderful to see people who have been involved for over 8 hours still giving thanks and praise to God, especially as there are no set breaks and although tea and biscuits are available, participants are encouraged to fast during the day.

In recent months Fr Soji and the team felt inspired to use the conventions more widely to assist in the evangelisation of the UK and decided that the days should be in English, rather than Malayalam, the native language of Kerala. As a result many more people are joining in, from all over the UK. To allow as many people as possible to attend there is no charge, although a collection is made to cover the costs.

second_sat2Deacon David Palmer, one of the members of the Diocesan Year of Faith Committee, who attended for the first time in April commented, ‘It was a wonderful experience to be part of this vibrant worshipping community. The strong faith and witness that has been built up in these conventions is very evident and a real blessing to all who attend. One highlight for me was to hear a group of teenagers giving their testimonies of how their faith had come alive through various retreats and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to hear how this new living faith in Jesus had changed their lives. Their enthusiasm was infectious, as they talked openly and honestly about how they seek to share their faith. A group had even engaged in street evangelisation, with great results. In this Year of Faith these Conventions are an opportunity to deepen our faith in a spirit of love and joy. They nourish us and encourage us to share our faith with others. Everyone here is living out their faith and they are obviously ‘Proud to profess it’ as we say after the creed each Sunday. It is also a wonderful witness to the universality of the Catholic Church to see people from so many nations coming together to praise God, just as it is described in so many of the psalms.’

Fr Soji and his ministry team (Sehion UK) based at Balsall Common, who are supported by the Kerala Community, work tirelessly in spreading the good news of the Gospel. In addition to the second Saturday Conventions in Birmingham, similar sessions are run in Bradford, Manchester and London to cater for the numbers wanting to attend nationwide. They also run various ministries for children and young adults, retreats, schools of evangelisation and organise prayer vigils and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sehion UK’s motto is ‘For Christ and His Church’ and its vision is to encourage Catholic families to be more involved in the work of telling others about Christianity and the love of God. In this they are fulfilling the exhortation in the Pastoral Guidelines issued by the Vatican for the Year of Faith that: ‘All of the faithful, called to renew the gift of faith, should try to communicate their own experience of faith and charity to their brothers and sisters of other religions, with those who do not believe, and with those who are just indifferent. In this way, it is hoped that the entire Christian people will begin a kind of mission toward those with whom they live and work, knowing that they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone.’ The new evangelisation is for all of us.

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