Photo of Adoration of Magi by Murillo.
The New York Times this morning reports about Iraqi Christians living in terror. Many are fleeing. The official numbers of Christians are down from 1.4 million (in a population of 30 million in country) to 500,000. What prompts this? The siege and bombing of a church in October during a service... and now some mis-information from a church in Egypt with Islamic threats.
The article is in full below:
Last night in Sydney, at our little Anglican parish, the assistant minister shared about a couple contrasts. One between a set of wise men viz other wisdom and the other contrast between two kings, Y'shua and Herod. I liked his sermon and the information.
One of his minor points was that the wise men of the story, the magi (See Matthew chapter 2 in the Bible) were not necessarily wise or royal men at all, but that they were prominent men who took a journey of hope.
Here's what it says, "Now after Jesus was (A)born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of (B)Herod the king, [a]magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born (C)King of the Jews? For we saw (D)His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet (Micah chapter 5): AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'"
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time (H)the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2.1-12)
Some say, the magi were a caste of wise men specializing in astronomy, astrology, and natural science.
The one thing everyone agrees on is that they were Oriental. They were 'from the east.' Probably China or Iran or Iraq. What were these Gentile kings or wise men or astrologers doing, looking for the king of the Jews? I believe they were looking for the one whose star they saw, and for whom they had already been hoping. Why were they looking for something Jewish?
Again I look to the history of the Jewish people. Daniel the prophet and Esther the queen (famed heroine of a book of the Bible) both served in The East for a season of their lives. And Daniel had taught them about the coming Messiah.
Wikipedia reports, "The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings. The word Magi is a Latinization of the plural of the Greek word magos (μαγος pl. μαγοι), itself from Old Persian maguŝ from the Avestan magâunô, i.e. the religious caste into which Zoroaster was born, (see Yasna 33.7:' ýâ sruyê parê magâunô ' = ' so I can be heard beyond Magi '). The term refers to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism (Kurdish religion). As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic. Translated in the King James Version as wise men, the same translation is applied to the wise men led by Daniel of earlier Hebrew Scriptures (Daniel 2:48). The same word is given as sorcerer and sorcery when describing "Elymas the sorcerer" in Acts 13:6-11, and Simon Magus, considered a heretic by the early Church, in Acts 8:9-13."
The wisdom of Daniel is well known. He served in 605 - 530 BCE. And he served in Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar and then when the Persians conquered Babylon about 539 BCE he was still there. Either way his ministry center was in the East.
Traditionally the view developed that the wise men were Babylonian or Persians or Jews from Yemen as the Makrebs or kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom. The majority belief was they were Gentiles from Babylon, which was the centre of Zurvanism, and hence astrology, at the time;
These Gentiles from the Orient, had a good orientation. They had been taught about God and about His saving the people of the world by Daniel and/or Esther. They knew what they were hunting and they searched until they found him. And in the finding of Y'shua, they found new orientation.
Dictionary: Orientation: –noun
1. the act or process of orienting.
2. the state of being oriented.
3. an introduction, as to guide one in adjusting to new surroundings, employment, activity, or the like: New employees receive two days of orientation.
4. Psychology, Psychiatry . the ability to locate oneself in one's environment with reference to time, place, and people.
5. one's position in relation to true north, to points on the compass, or to a specific place or object.
6. the ascertainment of one's true position, as in a novel situation, with respect to attitudes, judgments, etc.
7.Chemistry .a. the relative positions of certain atoms or groups, especially in aromatic compounds.
b. the determination of the position of substituted atoms or groups in a compound.
You too can find orientation, your own position in the community wherever you live. You too can find orientation, stability, life, centering, from finding yourself in relation to the Messiah, that little baby born in Bethlehem, who lived and taught and healed and then was murdered by the Romans on a cross and rose from the dead, some 3 decades later.
By putting your faith in Him, as the wise men did, you can have eternal life and orientation, no matter what your circumstances, and no matter your community, or their hostility.
God help the Iraqi Christians to find peace.
God help the Egyptian Christians to find peace.
God, help all of us to find peace viz the Prince of Peace, Y'shua, born in a manger, died for our sins. Coming soon again.
The Jewish custom of fixing the direction of prayer and orienting synagogues (Mizrah) influenced Christianity during its formative years. In early Christianity, it was customary to pray facing toward the Holy Land. The orientation of churches toward the east has persevered until the present day in a number of Christian denominations.
The orientation of churches is the architectural feature of facing ("orienting") churches towards the east (Latin: oriens).
The orientation of churches towards the east confused some people into seeing Christianity as being sun worshiping
Article from NY Times NY here
BAGHDAD — As they gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the congregation here first contemplated death, represented by a spare Christmas tree decked with paper stars, each bearing a photograph of a member of a nearby church killed in a siege by Islamic militants in October.
The congregants on Friday night were fewer than 100, in a sanctuary built for four or five times as many. But they were determined. This year, even more than in the past, Iraqi’s dwindling Christian minority had reasons to stay home for Christmas.
“Yes, we are threatened, but we will not stop praying,” the Rev. Meyassr al-Qaspotros told the Christmas Eve crowd at the Sacred Church of Jesus, a Chaldean Catholic church. “We do not want to leave the country because we will leave an empty space.”
He added: “Be careful not to hate the ones killing us because they know not what they are doing. God forgive them.”
Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than a thousand Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million. This week, a new threat appeared on a Web site that said it represented the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant group that claimed responsibility for the October church siege. The Web site referred to a church in Egypt that it said was holding two women because they had converted to Islam, and vowed more carnage. “We swear to God, if there are only two of us left,” the text read, “one of the two will keep fighting you.”
Churches in Kirkuk, Mosul and Basra canceled or curtailed services for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and warned congregations not to hold parties or mount displays. In Baghdad, decorations were seen in stores, but many churches scaled back or held only prayer sessions.
While Our Lady of Salvation, the church attacked in October, was among those that canceled services for Christmas Eve, it planned to hold services on Saturday. The Epiphany Dominican Convent canceled midnight Mass and then early Mass on Christmas morning so worshipers could avoid risky travel at vulnerable times. During the week, the church moved one Mass to a nuns’ convent, so the nuns would not have to travel in religious dress.
“People are lost,” said the Rev. Rami Simon, one of five brothers at the convent. “They don’t know where they live now. Is this Iraq?”
For those who dare to attend services, he said: “I say, you must accept to live like the first Christians. They celebrated in a cave and no one knew about it. So we are not the first to live it.”
But he added: “If I wasn’t a priest I would not stay one minute in Iraq. As a priest I find myself a missionary in my country. And some stay because we are here.”
At the Sacred Church of Jesus, attendance has dropped by half since October, Father Qaspotros said. When people tell him they are afraid to come to church, he said: “I tell them, You are not supposed to be afraid. You are supposed to connect with God, and death is not the last step. If we die, we survive for God.”
For Faez Shakur, 25, who attended Father Qaspotros’s service on Christmas Eve, this was the message he took away. “Whenever there is disaster,” he said, “it means a new day, a new life.” When he saw the tree decorated with the faces of the dead, he cried, he said. But he was where he belonged, he said. “We don’t have anything else,” he said, “just to pray and continue.”