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Two Millennia of Christianity in Jerusalem
The Ecumenical Movement: Opportunity in Crisis?

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

To talk about the ecumenical movement and its constituencies, let me go back as far as 1902 when HH Yoachim II, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, issued an encyclical in which he raised the matter of intra-Christian relations. In 1920, he followed it up with another encyclical entitled ‘Unto the Churches of Christ Everywhere’ in which he encouraged the spirit of reconciliation and drew upon the First Letter of St Peter to love on another earnestly from the heart (1 P 1:22b).

Indeed, this conference entitled ‘Two Millennia of Christianity in Jerusalem’ is not only an appropriate topic in its own right for this third international conference on Christian heritage. It also helps awaken our collective realisation that this land is indeed both (i) Christian since the Church of the First Pentecost, and (ii) a land of two peoples and three religions - Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. This realisation is paramount during this critical political juncture when vital political issues are being negotiated within the framework of the final status negotiations.

To look across two millennia of Christianity in Jerusalem, a number of people tend to talk or write about a waning faith and ever-dwindling numbers. One recent article even drew analogies between this land and Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’! I do not think the analogy is valid, any more than it is valid to compare Jan Kerkhof’s ‘Europe without Priests’ with the situation here.

There is also much speculation about an identity crisis besetting Palestinian Christians. But what is an identity crisis? If an indigenous man or woman says that s/he is an Arab / Palestinian / Christian / Jerusalemite, there is no identity crisis in my view! But if we look at our status here and today as a function of the direction our lives is taking, and where do we fit within the political demography of a multi-faith and pluralist society, I believe that the identity crisis is quite real and fairly acute.

But let us draw courage and wisdom from the writings of the French contemporary [and ostensibly irreligious] philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy. In his series ‘Periscopes Religieuses’, he postulates that any system of changing values produces inevitably a layer of profound doubt and that fear of the self replicates often onto a fear of the other.

So let me start with basics. We are talking here about the Christian faith, but what is this faith in its essence? What is its definition? In my opinion, it is not enough to discuss the word of God and comment on it. We must carry it also, and bear witness to it in the way we live. There is no original recipe or magical formula here! We Christians must learn afresh to simply become credible interpreters and witnesses of God’s love to humankind. I believe therein lies the secret of a Mother Teresa, a Fr Maximilien Kolbe or an Archbishop Desmond Tutu who changed the world around them. In the words of Cardinal Franz K?nig, Emeritus Archbishop of Vienna, we need to transubstantiate faith [through love], not institutionalise it;

And again, in the words of St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople and a contemporary of St Augustine in the 5C, Christians are called to ‘shine like a light in a world of darkness’

Can we perhaps think together of three buzzwords and use them as constant mnemonics or reminders in our lives? The first is Metanoya or a sense of renewal and change. The second is Koinonia which is an assembly of believers. And the third is Kairos which represents an opportunity in a moment of crisis. Can they help bridge the gap that straddles the practical with the possible in our ecumenical lives? Will the Christian communities here - leadership and grassroots alike - appropriate this movement and make it their own? Is the oikumene - the inhabited earth - a reality? Or are we knocking at the wrong doors?

You can provide the answers, since you alone can make the difference. The Christian faith and the ecumenical movement are living elements of our daily lives in the Holy Land. Let us not shy away from the challenges ahead, and let us not give in to the prophets of doom and gloom whose own interests often stray away from the path of righteousness.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2000   |   January


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