The 21– Muhammad’s answer to the people of the cross…

“Life itself, without faith, would have been worthless to them. It would be mere existence–
an existence more lowly than that of the animals, for animals are perfect in and of themselves, but humans are imperfect;
their aim for perfection requires divine assistance.”

Martin Mosebach author of the book The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs


(book cover)

My friends at Plough Publishing have gifted me with another tantalizing morsel
book for perusal and review.
Well, my publishing friend actually was offering several books for sharing but I requested the hard copy of
but one book—
The 21.

It is the story of those murdered and martyred Egyptian Copts on a Libyan seaside in 2015,
at the hands of ISIS—a story that continues to haunt me.

And it seems that I am not alone in feeling haunted by the memory of this heinous act.
The German author, Martin Mosebach is haunted as well.

Obviously, in order to delve into the story, Mr. Mosebach watched the full video of the beheadings
that was still floating around out there somewhere in cyberspace…that odd juxtaposition of
both space and time where nothing seems to die despite any and all humans involved either eventually
or having long since died.

At the time, as well as now, I did not nor do I care to watch such.

There have been many highly publicized videoed beheadings…
all carried out in the name of Allah by ISIS over past 5 or 6 years, but I have not watched them.

And yet oddly millions have been drawn to watching as if having bought a ticket to some macabre
Hollywood blockbuster…mesmerized by the unthinkable…
The unthinkable of one human being ending the life of another human being–
A life that is literally being held in the hands of an executioner…
or better put, a life’s head pulled up by the hair, all in order to sever the neck and eventually
the head more readily from its body.

Mosebach notes in his book how the original ISIS video actually cut away from what became an extended
as well as messy time the executioners were having in literally cutting the heads from the bodies…
not neat and quick as say the swift effortless job of a guillotine.
And it was very apparent that for the sake of the video’s shock value and propaganda,
the executioners desperately needed, as well as wanted, to look as professional, in control
and as efficient as possible.

A messy beheading can give the impression of being amateurish and ISIS wants nothing
to do with appearing amateurish or not being in complete control—as that feeds into their
desire to always appear large and in charge.

After watching the video and studying the odd camera image of the captors marching their
prisoners to the shoreline while appearing as black-clad giants
next to their captives who were wearing the unmistakable orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the Islamic
prisoners at Gitanomao, as each captive appeared small and less than–

Mosebach was moved by the posturing of the captors mirrored by the near emotionless
and oddly resigned yet the serene sense of their captives.
Prayers could be seen and heard flowing from the lips of the captives as well as the offered
praise for Jesus Christ despite knowing their fate was soon to be grisly.
There were no cries for mercy or of fear …but only controlled prayers to Jesus.

Early in the book Mosebach wonders aloud whether or not martyrdom and Christianity must
always go hand in hand…as he inquisitively muses
“as long as there are Christians there will also be martyrs?”

Mosebach knew that he must make his way to Egypt to visit the
homes and families of these martyred men.
And that he desperately needed to know more about the Copts and the Coptic faith.

The Copts are as old as Christianity itself–for they are some of the earliest known followers
of the Christian faith. Coptic actually means Egyptian—so these are Egyptian Christians.
They originated in the city of Alexandria and claim the author of the book of Mark,
that being John Mark, as their founder and first ‘bishop.’

Long before there was a Latin West or Eastern faith, long before there was
an East and West spilt in the faith, there were the Copts.

According to gotquestions.com,
Prior to the “Great” East/West Schism of A.D. 1054,
the Coptics were separated from the rest by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
The council met to discuss the Incarnation of Christ and declared that Christ was
“one hypostasis in two natures” (i.e., one person who shares two distinct natures).
This became standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
and Protestant churches from then on Coptic understanding is that Christ is one nature from two natures:
“the Logos Incarnate.”
In this understanding, Christ is from, not in, two natures: full humanity and full divinity.
Some in the Coptic Orthodox Church believe that their position was misunderstood at
the Council of Chalcedon and take great pains to ensure that they are not seen as Monophysitic
(denying the two natures of Christ), but rather “Miaphysitic”
(believing in one composite/conjoined nature from two).
Some believe that perhaps the council understood the church correctly,
but wanted to exile the church for its refusal to take part in politics or due to the rivalry
between the bishops of Alexandria and Rome.
To this day, 95 percent of Christians in Alexandria are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

It is interesting to note that when the Coptics were under the rule of the Roman Empire,
they suffered severe persecution and death for their steadfast faith and beliefs in Christ while
refusing to worship emperors. However, by A.D. 641,
yet another tribulation began when the Arab conquest took place,
overthrowing the Romans’ rule in Egypt and, at first, relieving the Coptic Church from persecution.
What appeared to be their liberty and freedom became yet again bondage.
The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Coptics to endure a major language and
culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Unfortunately,
over the centuries, Christianity lost foothold and most Coptics converted to Islam.

I am only to page 26 in the story and Mosebach has not yet traveled to Egypt—
so I am hopeful to read a story rich in history, Faith, resilience, forgiveness and above all Hope—
Hope despite the choking backdrop of Evil.

Some of his words prick the skin.
I find it difficult reading the words written by those who are not Americans…
those who write about America and our politics…
words about our leaders, our actions, our lack of action,
our complications in world affairs…
because like most Americans, I like to think our hearts are in the right place but I also know that
our National actions and reactions are deeply complicated by our politics.
Actions and reactions that fail not only our hearts and our people but fail those of our world.

I think as Americans we tend to feel a responsibility, albeit it a false responsibility, to
make the world a better place and to be the quintessential Superman for those in need.
We sometimes fail…we fail others and we fail ourselves.
So it does hurt reading the words of those who keenly notice.
But as they say, the truth can often hurt.

Throughout his quest, while seeking truth and information, Mosebach is moved by what he
actually does find…
that being a deeply sincere forgiveness found in the hearts of the Copts.
A century’s long-oppressed people who can find the capacity to truly forgive those
who have brutally killed their own families.

Unlike those of the Islamic State who seek misguided bloody, torturous and grisly revenge…
the Copts literally embrace the words of Christ…to forgive one’s enemies, no matter what.
For it is in forgiveness that we find our true liberation and hope.

Their faith goes beyond what we think of Christianity in the West.
That of an ever-growing, feel good wannabe that is polarizing and lukewarm at best.

The Copts seem to understand that our Faith transcends this earth.
Life on this earth is a blink of an eye that matters not…what matters is Christ and Christ alone.
Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll offer more as I progress as time allows but for now, I will leave us with the
words of Mr. Mosebach…

Much as the brutal nature of their deaths and the firmness,
even stubbornness with which they confessed their faith seem to match one another in context,
we find their fate equally eerie.
Hasn’t the Western world, with its openness toward discussion and dialogue,
long since overcome such life-threatening opposites?
We live in an era of strict religious privatization and want to see it
subjected to secular law.
Society seems to have reached a consensus to reject proselytizing and religious zeal.
Hadn’t all that put an end to the merciless, all-or-nothings alternatives or believe or leave,
renounce your faith or die?

Here is a link to Christianity Today and a story about the Copts and forgiveness.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/forgiveness-muslims-moved-coptic-christians-egypt-isis.html

chains

A christian martyrdom is never an accident,
for Saints are not made by accident.”

T.S. Eliot

“What Saint has ever won his crown without first contending for it?”
St. Jerome


(The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli / the Basilica of St Peter in Chains / Rome, Ialy /
Julie Cook / 2018)

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers,
bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.
He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.
“Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.”
And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.
Peter followed him out of the prison,
but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city.
It opened for them by itself, and they went through it.
When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
(Acts 12:5-10)

The bonds, according to tradition, once held fast the limbs of St. Peter the Apostle
and have been cherished by Christians since the first century.

The story of their veneration first appears in the ancient Acts of Saint Alexander,
an early pope who died as a martyr in AD 115.
As he awaited his own execution, he received a visit from Quirinus,
the nobleman who oversaw the prisons in Rome.
The man’s daughter Balbina was desperately ill,
and he had heard that Pope Alexander had the power to heal her.
She was completely cured when the pope touched her with his chains.
Balbina wanted to kiss the chains in gratitude —
but Alexander instructed her to find the chains of St. Peter and honor them instead.

Balbina became a Christian–and, according to some accounts, a consecrated virgin–
and she arranged for the construction of a shrine for St. Peter’s fetters.
It would be rebuilt and moved and expanded through the centuries.

As Rome’s Christians honored Peter’s chains from the Mamertine,
so the Church in Jerusalem kept his chains from the Herodian prison.
In the fifth century, the Christian empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II,
sent a length of Peter’s Jerusalem chains to St. Leo the Great.
According to tradition, Leo held it beside Peter’s chains from the Mamertine Prison,
and the two miraculously, inseparably fused together.

There are abundant testimonies to the presence of these chains in Rome.
St. Gregory the Great, who reigned as pope from 590 to 604,
was intensely devoted to the relic and often sent small filings as gifts to dignitaries–
to Constantina Augusta, the Byzantine empress; to a bishop named Columbus;
to King Childebert of the Franks; to King Rechared of the Visigoths; and to Theodore,
the court physician at Constantinople.
He would place the filing in a key-shaped reliquary–
the key representing Peter’s authority.
He sent each particle with a prayer
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

The chains are today exposed for veneration in a gold and glass reliquary in the
Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, on Rome’s Oppian Hill,
a church built in the fifth century during the reign of Leo the Great.
(Catholic Education Resource Center)

The Basilica of St Peter’s in Chains is what we consider, by Catholic Chruch standards,
as a minor basilica…meaning it is not one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome…
Rather it is a church of perhaps lesser significance but, in my opinion, it is still
significant none the less.

Say what you will about the Catholic Chruch, there is simply no denying that our roots,
our Christian roots, run deep in and through Rome.
That which had become known as the Latin West Chruch.

In the very dust of this city that is oozing with a vast array of sensory overloads,
rests the shadows of those who went long before us, all helping to create the history
we hold dear to this day.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, and eventual death, Rome was considered to be
the center of all that was and is.

A great and mighty empire who’s arms reached far and wide…even to the obscure
desert outpost of Judea.

The Roman Empire and the life of a Jewish carpenter were on a collision course.

Rome was considered the epicenter of this once mighty Empire…the seat of its government.

Scripture tells us that both Peter and Paul traveled to, preached throughout,
were each imprisoned in and were both eventually executed in this once important
center of all of humankind.

Yet today’s chaotic, trendy, chic and often very dirty city is a far cry from the city
that once “ruled the world.”

Just this past weekend there was a massive citywide protest as demonstrators took to
the streets showing their disdain for Rome’s crumbling infrastructure,
its overflowing trash and the fact that rats and even wild boar now roam this once
orderly city seeking out the overflowing trash.

Decades of inept and governmental corruption has taken its toll of what was once
Imperial Rome

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46003670

Yet Rome remains a rich treasure trove of our human history.
From art to architecture, from the sacred to the mysterious, Rome offers the curious a
fantastic feast.

The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is but one treat in this Roman feast.

Many people come here not so much to see a box of old chains but rather they wish
to see a masterpiece of marble and craftsmanship–
up close and personal, that of Michelangelo’s Moses.


(all images by Julie Cook, Rome, Italy / 2018)

The statue of Moses is only a part of what was to be the massive tomb for Pope Julius II—
the same pope who had a lifelong love-hate relationship with Michaelangelo

The Pope had charged Michaelangelo to construct a massive tomb to be used after his death.
Yet during the same time, the Pope had commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

As Michaelangelo never considered himself to be a painter but rather a sculptor only, he felt
a deep sense of angst over having to work on such a massive undertaking of painting.

A painting that millions of people now flock yearly to see.

He actually ran away at one point, attempting to escape the demands of the man who history
now attributes to be the pope who brought St Peter’s to the glory that we marvel over today.
The Pope actually sent his soldiers to Florence to retrieve Michaelangelo…
bringing him back to finish his commission, of which they did and Michaelangelo in turn
eventually did.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however, Pope Julius II died before Michaelangelo could finish
the massive tomb. Yet luckily today for both the curious and the tourist,
we may view this lesser monument here in the Basilica.

The statue of Moses is the central figure that draws all attention.
It is a single massive piece of Carrara marble.

Looking closely one sees that Moses has what appears to be horns protruding
from his head. But the horns are due to a mistranslation.

Michelangelo’s Moses is depicted with horns on his head.
He, like so many artists before him, was laboring under a misconception.
This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of the Hebrew Scriptures
into Latin by St Jerome.
Moses is actually described as having “rays of the skin of his face”,
which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns”.
The mistake in translation is possible because the word “keren”
in the Hebrew language can mean either “radiated (light)” or “grew horns”.

(Rome.Info)

And whereas I will always stand in awe and marvel anytime I have an opportunity to stand
and gaze on a massive piece of marble that a seemingly otherworldly gifted man managed to
coax out an unbelievable miracle of vision and craftsmanship,
it is to the box of chains that held my fascination on this most recent visit.

Those who are jaded or who scoff over the significance afforded to something, that may or
may not be what it claims to be, may certainly be that way and question.

And whereas I cannot say yay or nay as to the authenticity of these chains…
Were these the actual chains that held Peter?
I don’t know if any of us can ever say, and  yet to me,
it is not whether they are or are not what they claim to be which is important
but is to where they direct my thoughts.

They have been on display since the year 115,
roughly 47 years following Peter’s execution in Rome.

I have sat in the Mamertine prison.

Sitting in the dark, on a small ledge, contemplating the fate of those who
were once kept in this underground dungeon.
It is, as it was then, a dark enclosed dungeon..an outcropping that now sits at the
foot of Capitoline Hill. A Christian church now sits atop this prison.

Prisoners were lowered by ropes down into this pit of a prison.
It is the prison said to have once held both Saints, Peter and Paul.

Peter was bound in chains when he held as a prisoner in the Herodian prison
as well as the Mamertine prison.

So as to this miraculous union of two separate sets of chains binding together as one,
again, is beyond my ability to say…

But what I do know is that these mysterious chains draw me back to scripture,
they draw me back to a mighty God who uses simple men and women to do mighty works.

No chain, no boundary, no weight, no limitation exists that can hold our Mighty God.
Small things such as a box full of historical chains are but a physical reminder of this.

Sometimes we need, I need, those physical reminders because my mind, our minds,
are so limited whereas our God is so limitless.

And so as Pope Gregory the Great reminds us…
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

Amen…

a house divided and the repeating of history

“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere
of imaginary brightness.”

James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans


( a view of the Collesium not often seen by the general public / Julie Cook / 2018

Having always had a keen interest in history, as well as having to delve deeply into
European Art History throughout college, it only seemed natural that I should then spend
a lifetime of teaching such…
Of which I did.

And so it should then come as no surprise that I am all too familiar with the old adage
that history will always repeat itself.

Words that always haunt me whenever I visit Rome.

Yet if the truth be told, those words could apply to anyone who visits anywhere
throughout most, if not all, of Europe—
all the way from Northern Africa as well as westward into Asia…
Be it from the highlands of Scotland to the arid desert of Egypt,
Rome’s influence remains visible to this day.

Engineering marvels such as massive marble and granite aqueducts can still be
seen crisscrossing an extensive continent…
having once readily delivered fresh and free-flowing water all the way from the Alps
down to the heel of Itlay…it gives pause to our own current day Army Corps of Engineers.

Hadrian’s wall which “ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the
Solway Firth on the Irish Sea was the northern limit of the Roman Empire…”

remains visible to this day…as in the original “Border Wall.”

The borders of the Roman Empire, which fluctuated throughout the empire’s history,
were a combination of natural frontiers (most notably the Rhine and Danube rivers) and man-made fortifications which separated the lands of the empire from the countries beyond.

(Map and excerpt courtesy Wikipedia)

However, most of what we see today as mere tourists or passerbys are mere shadows
of various ruins and rubble of what was once a massively impressive Empire.
Yet Rome’s influence remains…it remains even within our own republic
as it is based on similar practices and principles.

It truly boggles the modern mind when looking at such a classic yet trendy city as the
likes of Rome…
A city rife with darting Vespas, begging gypsies, high-end fashion houses…all the while as
black suited priests and colorful nuns scurry about mingling with some of the best-dressed
businessmen and women in the world.

A city whose past is clearly visible to the naked eye as her ruins run far and wide.
No new building project goes without ancient discoveries just below the current surface…
for Rome is a multi-layered treasure trove of humankind.

We know from detailed documentation that this is what Rome’s Collesium once looked like…

A sports arena that could be filled with water allowing for the reenactment of
famous naval battles or outfitted with a sandy field for blood sports that would
make way for wild animals ripping apart the current enemies of the state…
most often Christians who would be wrapped in canvases soaked in blood and
meat by-products as wild animals, that had been unfed for upwards of a week
or more, would then be loosed upon the hopeless in order to devour the helplessly
bound human victims…
a macabre spectacle played out before the deafening crescendo of bloodthirsty
cheering crowds.

The Collesium could hold 50,000 “sports fans.”
And much like the new Atlanta Mercedes Benz Arena that has a giant sculpted bronze
falcon which harkens to the city’s football team,
Rome’s Collesium once had a 100-foot tall bronze statue of Nero
depicted as a sun god.

So it seems not much has changed with sports fans in 2000 some odd years.
Big, bold, violent with lots of sensory overload.

It was said that the caesars and emperors knew the best way to keep the people happy
while avoiding rebellion…
that was to provide cheap food and free entertainment.

And so when I think of such great empires as that of Rome and her Roman Empire…
it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the realization that such a massive,
feared and impressive society…
one that was far beyond its time in engineering and force could
simply crumble into the annals of time…left now as mere tourist attractions and
archeological mysteries.

Thus would it not behoove us to recall the verse from Matthew about what happens to a
house divided…
for history teaches us that the Roman Empire was indeed divided…
crumpling in upon herself…
just as it seems that we Americans are also equally and bitterly divided amongst
ourselves today.
I wonder what our fate will be if we continue on this current path of self-destruction?

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation,
and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.
How then will his kingdom stand?
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?
Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God,
surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Matthew 12:25-28

what lengths are you willing to go so that no one will ever forget?

Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.
Malcolm Muggeridge


(Photo: Getty Images/Ellen van Bodegom)

Maybe you’ve fantasized about living out your days in a Mediterranean villa.
You might have even gone so far as to check listings before the reality of your
bank account forced you to give up on the dream.
Well, despair no longer.
One town on the Italian island of Sardinia is offering the real estate deal of a
lifetime, as long as you’re willing to stick around for the long haul.
In Ollolai, one of several hundred historic homes could be yours for just $1.25 (€1).
Yes, really.
Mayor Efisio Arbau successfully petitioned local residents to turn over their
abandoned homes in the town,
which then put them on the market for the attention-grabbing low price.

The aggressive real estate blitz is an effort to prevent a town known for its
successful resistance to the Roman Empire from fading into obscurity.
The village’s population has shrunk from 2,250 to 1,300 over the years,
and the migration of its younger people to larger cities has led to a declining birthrate.
“My crusade is to rescue our unique traditions from falling into oblivion,”
Arbau told CNN.
“We’ve always been tough people and won’t allow our town to die.”

as seen on Conde Nast Traveler / CNN Travel

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/ollolai-italy-one-euro-homes/index.html

I always love these stories—the ones about the small tranquil village that has witnessed
a tremendous decline in its inhabitants and in turn makes almost outlandish sales offers
in hopes of luring would-be occupants and potential citizens to come own, inhabit and live,
all at very little expense, for a piece of paradise.

And we know that the reasons for these villages slow deaths are for all sorts of troubles…
families move, youth…when grown…move-out and away,
and the Old…well they have simply died…

And so now all these small communities, all over the globe, begin to slowly shrivel up and die…

The young see no growth, no fun, no potential, no reason to stay.
Young families have no real choice in schooling or sound medical care.
Those trying to make a living and livelihood discover that such is nearly nonexistent…
while the Old have hung on for as long as they can, yet are now dying off in large numbers…

It is the visual death knell sounding for small communities worldwide.

And yet there is a real desire that these communities remain for they have existed for eons…
they have been the underpinning, the lynchpins, of our greater society as a whole…

And of course, the catch for the potential buyer is always the caveat of remodeling
and pouring copious amounts of cash into the refurbishing of said piece of paradise.

But I’ll admit, the allure of buying a piece of paradise for all of a buck is pretty darn
appealing…however it’s the copious amounts of cash needed for the remodeling, modernizing
and upkeep that is the killer of the dream.

And so I bring all of this up as I’m still making my way through Andreas Knapp’s book
The Last Christians…Stories of Persecution, Flight, Resilience in the Middle East.

You may remember it was the book that my publishing friend from Plough Publishing House
sent out for my perusal back around Christmas.

It’s not a long book and you’d think I would have finished it ages ago,
but it is a book that demands my full attention—
especially since I take highlighter in hand as I read, along with a notepad
as I make notes while reading.
I cover only a few pages or a chapter a day here and there as time allows…

For meatier stories demand our utmost attention…and this is such a tale because the
subjects of this story deserve nothing less.

And it is not an easy read—it is not easy reading about persecution, murders, terror,
and insanity.

I was struck by what Mayor Efisio Arbauin said in the Conde Nast / CNN article
about why he wants to maintain his dying village in Sardinia.
“the aggressive real estate blitz is an effort to prevent a town known
for its successful resistance to the Roman Empire from fading into obscurity.”

Advertise like crazy as we want to maintain an ancient town that stood up against
an aggressive, mighty, powerful and brutal empire…

And yet I marvel at how the world at large will allow the last remaining true
Aramaic Christians, who trace their lineage, which in turn is our lineage,
back to Jesus himself–a world that will allow, nay is allowing,
these Aramaic Christians to be tortured, murdered,
disbanded, scattered and ultimately totally destroyed and wiped from the face of the Earth.

Read the following excerpt offered by the book’s author Fr Knapp along with a
priest and Bishop Petros Mouche who is the leading prelate of a
dispersed and disparaged people:

“Many people in Western countries, he points out, campaign for the protection of
animal species threatened with extinction.
And yet all appeals to halt the loss of the oldest Christian
Culture and its people and language have been ignored by the Western World”

(Bishop Petros Mouche displaced Syriac Catholic)

A young priest along with the Bishop both relate their tales of horror to the author
Fr. Knapp

“He who says nothing implies consent”
Latin Proverb

“How can we rebuild our trust?”
We can’t simply forget what happened.
And how can there be reconciliation with our Muslim neighbors when they haven’t expressed
the slightest regret?
Indeed will Muslims ever be capable of acknowledging any guilt toward us Christians?
Bishop Petros intervenes quietly at this point: “In times like these, we ourselves
can experience feelings of aggression.
We must overcome them.
It is God’s will that we should love our enemies.

I am silent, left speechless by his stance in the face of such a brutal reality.
He shakes his head thoughtfully.
“We can’t just forget what has happened.
But we will ask God to forgive the offenders
and lead them to think differently.”

Still, the white-haired bishop’s face betrays a deep anguish.
With this last oasis of Iraqi Christianity now under IS control,
and a nearly two-thousand-year-old
local church reduced to rubble, Qaraqosh is like a ghost town.
Bishop Petros is especially troubled by the fate of a three-year-old girl and some
young women abducted from the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain who–
like the Yazidi women-face sexual abuse, forced marriages with
Islamic fighters and slavery.

Bishop Petros told me of one eighty-year-old man who asked the terrorists why there wouldn’t
spare his family any food for the children;
their response was to hack off his hands and feet.

And yet the Bishop states that “they may have lost everything else,
but they have never lost their faith.”

What will the world be willing to offer in order to save these last Christians?
What will Christians be willing to offer in order to save these ancient brothers and sisters?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope.
And hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,
who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

work done while sleeping….

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long.
If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


(tiny prayer box / Julie Cook / 2018)

The above image is that of a tiny, badly tarnished silver, prayer box.
This particular little box, along with others like it, was very popular in the late
80’s early 90’s.
This is the one that I had at the time.

Just inside the tiny box, you can see a bit of blue paper.
And might I add, that is a very tiny piece of blue paper with an equally tiny
written prayer.
But we might note that the prayer was anything but tiny.

Below is an image of another prayer box.
This particular box was discovered buried along a street in the old City of David sandwiched between some tile during construction taking place in a car lot.
This tiny box, made of some sort of animal bone, dates from either the 5th or
6th century AD and is considered to be a Byzantine prayer box.

Rather than a tiny piece of paper with a tiny scrawled prayer resting inside the tiny box, there is actually a small and very worn Icon, or painted image, of what is thought to be Mary.
Such a prayer box was intended to be carried in a pocket or pouch and acted as a
tiny traveling church, as one could open the box and pray before a holy image…
taking one’s prayers directly to the source.

The Byzantine time period from which this little box dates was a very tumultuous time
for the Middle East along with the whole Mediterranean region.

The Roman Empire had fallen to the Visigoths and Carthage had fallen to the Vandals…
add in the push from Attila’s Huns and it was a very dangerous time to be either
Jewish or Christain.

I can only imagine the prayers offered before this ancient little box…
as I am left to wonder whose box it was and how did it come to rest buried
in a parking lot in Jerusalem.

Right before Christmas a longtime blogging friend emailed me that she wanted me to
look into something she had just purchased.
This friend has since moved on from the blogging world, as she is a working mom
with young children whose time has not been her own.
She is an extremely devout Christian with a deep Jewish heritage.

She is very familiar with the idea of prayer, particularly those that are written and
placed before God.

It is a tradition that at the Wailing wall in Jesurelum, prayers are written down and placed in the crevices of the wall, as the wall is considered Holy by Jews as well as many Christians.

Often seen rocking slightly back and forth as their heads gently touch the wall, Jews will stand for long periods of time before the Wall, hands resting outward with palms facing upward or either with hands reverently folded…they will be immersed in deep meditative prayer.
Others, be they tourists or locals, merely push tiny bits of paper into the cracks as they lay their written prayers before what it thought the Divine Presence of
God Himself.

The Wall is considered Divine because it is a remnant of the actual Temple.

Human beings seem to have a very deep need for the tangible when it comes to their relationship with the Divine Presence of God…to be able to touch, to write to physically connect is of the utmost importance to many of the faithful.

Be it prayer beads, a knotted prayer rope, icons or even a prayer box–the
tangible and physical connection between penitent and God is a deeply profound
yearning as well as a mystery.

What my friend wanted me to look into was what is known as a sleeping Joseph.

Now that might sound odd and even appear odd but the story behind the small figurine is anything but strange and is actually rather full of gentleness and a gracious sense of comfort.

We know very little about Jesus’ earthly father Joseph.
He is only mentioned early on in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke and later in the books of Mark and John
It is in Matthew (1:1-18) that we read of his lineage harkening back to
David.

It is also when we read of the importance of dreams regarding Joseph as God came to Joseph at the most key moments in his life as a husband and father during his sleep. First Joseph is reassured that Mary is indeed telling the truth regarding her pregnancy and that he is to follow through with marrying her.
Secondly, Joseph is warned to take his young family to Egypt in order to flee Herod’s wrath and the killing of the Innocents.

I can remember my Godpoppa, the Episcopal priest, giving a sermon one Father’s day
about Joseph.

And he noted what we already know, that historically, we know very little regarding Joseph as he seems to simply “disappear” from scripture once Jesus begins
his earthly ministry.
He is not mentioned throughout the three years of ministry as being present and is not by Mary’s side at the crucifixion.

And so we simply and sadly assume he died at some point during Jesus’ growing up.

As we are left to wonder about this earthly father of Jesus.

Thinking about Jesus’ earthly father actually brought tears to my Godpoppa’s eyes as he had lost his own father when he was only 16. His was a heartfelt observation about what a life Joseph must have lived.

He most likely taught Jesus the skills of carpentry.
How to be a craftsman using both his mind and his hands.
He taught Jesus what it meant to be reverent and prayerful
He taught Jesus the demonstrative nature of what Jesus intuitively knew,
how to worship His actual Father…no doubt a precarious balance and a heavy burden
for the earthly father.
He also taught the young boy respect.

There was a humble yet focused obedience that Jesus learned from Joseph.

And he learned about the importance of prayer…

The small figurine my friend shared with me is a prayer box of sorts.
The idea being that as you ready for sleep you place your concerns, worries, prayers
written down while placing them under the sleeping Joseph.

How often is your sleep disrupted by the heaviness of concern and worry?
Your thoughts, including your subconscious, consumed by the weight of whatever it is
that is eating at you. Your family, your friends, your work, your health, the health of those you love…there is a quickening of need that plays out even while you attempt to sleep—you pray as you drift off only to toss and turn…

The Joseph “prayer box” asks that you write down these concerns and or petitions,
laying them beneath Joseph—a man who was accustomed to Godly encounters during his sleep through his dreams, as you literally give your concerns over to God.

Trusting that He will, as He does, see, hear and know…

This is not a discussion on the topic of Saints nor of the notion of their interventions or of denominational differences, infighting, and angst…
it is rather a reminder of the human need and desire for a tangible and or physical connection as we literally acknowledge the weight of our concerns, worries and thoughts along with the very real need to literally give them over to God.

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,

Job 33:14-15