image of jerusalem 2013

Where are We in the Millennium?
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out ... You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid ... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven ... Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock - (Mt 5:13-16).

August   |   2000   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Anyone visiting the City of the Resurrection these days will no doubt be overwhelmed by the vast number of tourists in the streets. Whether one walks through the souk in the old city, or heads toward the different quarters of Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate, it is quite easy to be overtaken by a sense of claustrophobia. At times, one needs literally to navigate through hordes of pilgrims and tourists hungry for the experience of the millennium! But what exactly should the ‘millennium’ represent for us Christians of the Holy Land as we find ourselves halfway already through this special year?

The Millennium Message of George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, is perhaps a good staring point. He wrote recently that ‘at times in its history, the Church has defamed the name of Jesus Christ’ and that ‘organised religion and Jesus do not always mix happily’. Sunday School lessons, added Carey, had sometimes presented a false picture of a ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’, which is strikingly close to the depiction of Jesus by the novelist Nabokov as a ‘blond-bearded faddist in a towelling robe’. Against this picture, though, Carey recounted Desmond Tutu’s story of a small black boy cast out of an all-white church. As he wept on the church steps, Jesus appeared and said, ‘Do not worry, my boy, I have been trying to get into that church for years’.

Such thought-provoking statements from the leader of the Anglican Communion world-wide reminded me also of a lecture given in London a short while back by Cardinal Franz K?nig, Emeritus Archbishop of Vienna. Reflecting initially to Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ or Jan Kerkhof’s ‘Europe Without Priests’ to highlight a current concern over a numerically declining Christianity and a waning faith, K?nig then referred to other equally prominent forces such as Gilles Kepel, George Weigel and the Taize youth ecumenical movement who believe in the exact opposite. He stressed that there is indeed a noticeable religious resurgence throughout the world reacting at long last against secularism, moral relativism and self-indulgence. He considered those emerging forces as a vivid re-affirmation of the values of order, discipline, work, mutual help and human solidarity.

And this renewal is the faithful message I take with me into the new millennium. It is not enough to discuss the word of God and comment on it. We must also carry it out and bear witness to it by the way we live. I do not believe that there is a spectacular answer or secret recipe. The churches must become again credible interpreters and witnesses of God’s love to mankind. This is the secret of a Mother Teresa or a Father Maximilian K?lbe who changed the world around them. Christians do not have to invent anything new. They must simply continue proclaiming the Gospel, not so much with words but bearing loving witness by the way they live.

St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople and a contemporary of St Augustine’s in the fifth century, once called for Christians to ‘shine like a light in a world of darkness’. What he said when Christianity was in its infancy holds true for us in our society today as we welcome a new millennium. Words alone are not enough. What human beings do, and how they respond to the example and instructions of the founder of our faith some two thousand years ago, remain the decisive factors.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2000   |   August


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