Kamal Hourani is a first year student in the Religious Studies Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a participant of our Digital Disciples Program.
With ISIS rampaging across the Middle East and civilians fleeing their homes, many worry that soon Christians will be an afterthought in the fabric of Arab countries. The extremists would probably like it that way; however, we Christians cling to many holy sites throughout the region, especially in Syria and Jerusalem. They are the churches to which we make pilgrimages or the resting places of saints we want to venerate. The threat of ISIS also seems to bring with it the threat of the annihilation of our religious roots.
At the last episode of Orthodoxy on Tap in Boston on October 1st, His Grace Bishop John, overseer of the Antiochian Diocese of Worcester and New England, challenged our fear of losing our holy sites in the Middle East. He asked the gathered young adults if it was necessary for the church to have Jerusalem or Syria.
After a few tentative responses from people in the gathering, His Grace declared, “Of course, Jerusalem is a people…”
Herein lies a powerful message for everyone watching the growing conflicts in the Middle East. We are the “New Jerusalem” as it says in the Ninth Ode of Pascha. We are the “royal priesthood” and the “chosen nation.” The life of Christ lives on in us. Of course, it is beautiful that we have churches built over the sites of Christ’s actual tomb, Golgotha, and the Transfiguration, but our faith does not hinge on their existence.
We show the glory of the empty tomb when Christ comes to rest in us and purge us from our sins. We relive Golgotha as we struggle with our passions and give our lives for our neighbors. We radiate the light of the transfiguration when we shine with the divine energies of God imparted to us through the sacraments.
This is our challenge and our calling. All of the historic beauty found in the Middle East can be manifested in us as spiritual beauty.
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