“To find something that is lost is always a happy occasion!” So said Patriarch Sahak II Maşalyan of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, during his sermon at the first Divine Liturgy to be celebrated at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Malatya, Turkey, in over one hundred years. Reconstructed through joint efforts of the “Malatya Hayırsever Ermeniler Kültür ve Dayanışma Derneği” (Malatya Armenian Culture and Solidarity Philanthropic Association, known as “HayDer”) and the Malatya Municipality, the reconsecration of the Սուրբ Երրորդութիւն/Surp Yerrortutiun (Holy Trinity) Church on Saturday, August 28, and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy the day after was a momentous, historic, and, indeed, happy occasion. Patriarch Sahak II deftly connected Christ’s famous parables from Luke 15 and the weekend’s “Feast of the Finding of the Holy Belt of Saint Mary” with the historic occasion. He emphasized the monumental event of restoring an Armenian Apostolic Church that had been abandoned during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and left to ruin not only being renovated by a Turkish municipality, but again hosting Armenian Christian liturgical life. Joy at recovering something lost and the promise of new life, the themes of the Lukan parables, were palpable in the videos and news from the weekend.
Malatya, an ancient central Anatolian city known historically as Melitene, had a notable Armenian presence since at least the time it served as a Roman provincial capital. While the church, known colloquially in Turkish as Taşhoran, was left to ruin after the 1915 Genocide, Malatya was one of the few urban centers that maintained an Armenian presence throughout the twentieth century. Today, Malatya is famous among Armenians as the birthplace of Hrant Dink, the journalist and intellectual who founded the influential paper Agos and was assassinated outside of its offices in 2007. Several of the articles about the reconsecration mention the proximity of the church to the neighborhood where Hrant Dink was born.
It is time for Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians in the United States to join hands and fight against casteism. Members of the community must support initiatives to make caste a protected category at schools, colleges, and universities as well as in the workplace. Likewise members of the community must unmask the false message that to stand up against casteism is Hinduphobic. Standing up to casteism is a human rights issue, plain and simple—one that cuts across all religions including Christianity.
Contrary to popular belief, caste is not solely tied to the Hindu religion but functions across religions. In fact, casteism, defined as “adherence to a caste system,” has been perpetrated by dominant-caste Christians for centuries and is embedded in Eastern Rite Catholic and Orthodox Indian Christian traditions and practices.
Casteism is a form of decent-based discrimination. Descent based simply means that an individual is born into a certain group, and therefore it matters profoundly who one’s parents and ancestors are. For Americans unfamiliar with caste, it can be helpful to think in terms of racism as a parallel construct.
When approaching the discourse on “Islam, Europe, andDemocracy,” and laying aside apparent understandings and admissions, we are faced with certain observations and questions. A first approach of “Islam, Europe, and Democracy” bears with it a certain consensus. That is, that Islam, as a religious system, with more or less apparent theocratic elements—depending on the countries it dominates and where it is applied, as well as due to its “essentialist” religious and political trajectory in time and sociopolitical process—does not carry with it European values and the imperatives of the West, such as democracy and, consequently, the spirit of Enlightenment. Such values are considered shaped by the European spirit—due to both Christianity and secularism—and produced by the struggles of the French Revolution against religious authority and the tyranny of monarchy. A variety of historical, spiritual, philosophical, and political journeys have yielded a unique heritage for the individual, society, and humanity as well, thereby safeguarding human rights and protecting the individual from the terms and imperatives of a religiously and politically pre-modern communal life. Democracy guarantees that a state functions with elected representatives and that all citizens are equal before the law, irrespective of their sex, color, religious beliefs, and political opinions. Different languages, religions, and cultures are therefore to be respected as equal within the framework of a statutory secular law.
This point gives birth to a multiplicity of questions. Such questions concern not only the national and religious histories of the European states and their different financial status, but also their political past or present.
“The indescribable glory of His face was changing through grace”—Menaion for August.
Since the feast-day of the Mandylion Ikon of Christ, memories of encountering it have been galvanizing my prayer, recalling an extraordinary encounter meeting it on pilgrimage many years ago. The Mandylion Icon “Not Made by Hands” occupies a central place among Orthodox images of Christ, although its origins are shrouded in mystery. The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 gave attention to it, and to commemorate the triumph of the holy images, it is this icon of Christ which is venerated at the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The expression “not made by hands” derives its meaning from its Gospel context: “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made by hands” (Mark 14:58). The term acheiropoietos in the Greek and spas nerokotvornyi in the Russian describes icons carrying the heritage of being created not by the mere agency of icon-painters, but by the tradition of direct impression of Our Lord’s body; they claim to derive from the first example and thus be genuine and pleasing to God.
The Mandylion Icon of Christ is displayed in a prominent place in the church, censed during the Liturgy, and often carried in procession. It is traditionally seen over doorways and gateways; and it is also often present, symbolizing Christ’s invisible presence, when the penitent and priest stand together in the church for the Sacrament of Repentance. Witnessing this icon for the first time was a jolting experience for me, at once unsettling and yet startlingly infused with love. One evening, during a memorable Russian pilgrimage, as we made the rounds of several Vespers services, we were joined by a Russian Orthodox nun, Sr. Galina. Even with no shared language, we became fast friends because we are both red-headed. Trailing behind her, I learned to circumnavigate the church and venerate the icons.