Fr Stephen Smuts

Archive for February 10th, 2012

Catholic Bishops Respond to Obama’s Compromise

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Bishops Studying Initial White House Movement on Religious Liberty.


New opportunity to dialogue with executive branch

Too soon to tell whether and how much improvement on core concerns

Commitment to religious liberty for all means legislation still necessary

Washington — The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB.

“The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals,” he said.

“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 22:22

Holy Sepulcher, a 3D Journey Back in Time

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The following video illustrates the different phases of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher moving backwards in time from the Crusades until Crucifixion. Here is the information from the site:

A journey back in time to tell the story of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site defined in many Christian traditions as “the Centre of the World”. This is the gift by ATS pro Terra Sancta to all the friends and the supporters of the Holy Land.Divided in chapters, the video by Mrs. Raffaella Zardoni for ATS pro Terra Sancta presents a 3D reconstruction of the basilica at different times, back to the stone cave which saw the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our being here, our commitment for this land and our deep desire to help its living stones start and gather meaning from here.

While the video is extremely well done it should be noted that it illustrates the architecture of the bench of “Jesus’ tomb” identically in each chapter of the video. This is not exactly historically accurate. The burial bench beneath the “Rotunda” was actually reconstructed by Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus in 1048 AD after it and much of the surrounding rotunda of Constantine/Helena had been destroyed by Fatimid Caliph Hakim in 1009 AD.

For more information regarding th the various stages of the development see the “Church of Holy Sepulcher” entry in the Anchor Bible Dictionary by Oliver Nicholson (pgs. 3: 258-260).



Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 17:32

Bringing Ex-Anglicans Into the Catholic Fold

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The Rev. Jeffrey Steenson’s colleagues joke that during the past several years, he’s gone from a church heretic to a hierarch.

Even though he has been a Catholic priest for only about three years, Steenson was Pope Benedict’s pick to lead a brand-new structure for Catholic converts from Anglican churches, a position he officially takes on this weekend in Houston.

Catholic bishops and leaders from across the country will fill downtown’s Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart at 3 p.m. Sunday for his installation as the head of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The ordinariate consists of Catholic parishes that maintain some traditional Anglican prayers and music in services. Like most of the members of these communities, called Anglican Use parishes, Steenson used to be an Episcopalian, an Episcopal bishop, in fact.

He converted to Catholicism in 2007, after spending most of his career studying the church fathers, striving for ecumenicalism and, ultimately, feeling God put on his conscience that the Catholic Church was the “one, true, holy and apostolic” body.

A married father of three and amateur pilot, Steenson joined the church under provisions initially made for former Anglicans in the early ’80s by Pope John Paul II. About that time, the first Anglican Use parishes formed in the U.S., including Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio and Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, now the headquarters for Steenson’s ordinariate.

The announcement came as a surprise to Steenson and members of the local parish, which years ago “had been meeting in borrowed chapels and rented warehouses. We wouldn’t have imagined it would have come to this and that Houston would be the headquarters for this nationwide (ordinariate),” said Clint Brand, a parishioner at Our Lady of Walsingham and professor at the University of St. Thomas. “It’s a recognition of what converts have carried with them into the Catholic Church. We can now reclaim the tradition that taught us to be Catholic.”

Catholics hope their Episcopal neighbors see the initiative positively, as an unprecedented way of honoring the Anglican tradition and its core liturgy, in the Book of Common Prayer, by officially making a place for it in the Catholic Church.

“We aren’t about trying to break up congregations or sheep-stealing. We respect the integrity of these communities,” Steenson said. “We’re not about competing for souls … . There is a desire to work together to build up church unity.”

Joseph Britton, dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, said even from an Anglican perspective, this can be seen as a positive move that opens further opportunities for dialog.

“Though the first instinct may have been to think this was a poach on Anglicans by the Roman Catholic Church, one recognizes there is a more subtle ecumenical effect,” said Britton, an expert in Anglican studies.

About 1,500 former Episcopalians have expressed interest in joining, and 42 Episcopal priests could be ordained by the Catholic Church as early as this summer…

Continue reading here.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 17:18

Judean Desert Draws Tourists

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OBL News:

Located between Jerusalem and Jericho, the Judean Desert provided an inspiration to thousands of hermits who lived here in the early Middle Ages. With its breathtaking, rugged beauty, it was the perfect setting for those searching spiritual fullness in the emptiness of the desert.

Today only a handful of monks live here, but the desert and its stunning monasteries continue to attract thousands of visitors from all over the world.

With its majestic cliffs and arid rocks stretching to the sky, the Judean Desert is a spiritual place of eerie beauty.

During the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., it hosted a community of several thousand monks drawn by biblical stories and in search of a soulful experience. Away from earthly temptations, they lived a life of privation and isolation inside the dozens of caves scattered around this mountainous desert.

The desire to retrace the footsteps of early Christianity is still bringing pilgrims and tourists, said Elisa Moed, founder and chief executive of, a faith-based website that provides resources for Christians traveling to the Holy Land.

“This is where John the Baptist resided. He was a hermit, and part of really experiencing the footsteps and really understanding the roots of Christianity is to come here and take a look at the wilderness and the landscape and try to understand the lifestyle of John the Baptist,” she said.

The prophet Elijah “also spent his time in the Judean wilderness, Jesus spent time in the Judean wilderness. So, yes, it’s a very important and very integral part of coming to the Holy Land and experiencing the Holy Land is to come into this wilderness,” she said.

With its source of natural water, the gorge of Wadi Qelt in the West Bank, located a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem on the way to the Dead Sea, provides a green respite amid the arid landscape of the Judean Desert. This is where the Bible says the prophet Elijah lived, and it is the spot chosen by fifth-century hermits. In a reminder of the modern Middle East, vehicles must pass through Israeli and Palestinian checkpoints on the trip.

Visitors come here to visit the monastery of St. George built in the late 19th century on the site of an earlier monastery destroyed by the Persians in the year 614.

Today a small community of Greek Orthodox monks resides here, allowing visitors to view the monastery.

Two years ago, the road to the site was expanded, allowing a larger number of visitors, mainly from Greece and Romania.

Even with the improvements, Wadi Qelt continues to be off the beaten path. Buses can reach the entrance gate, but visitors have to walk down a winding path for about 15 minutes in order to reach the monastery, a potential hurdle for senior citizens or people with disabilities.

To those with walking difficulties, local Bedouin Arabs offer the option of covering the path on donkeys for about $20 to $30 (about 70 to 110 shekels).

A more common destination for pilgrim tours is the nearby Mount of Temptation, a 15-minute car ride from Wadi Qelt, near the Dead Sea.

Placed just above the West Bank town of Jericho, the monastery of the Mount of Temptation is on a cliff about 1,200 feet (360 meters) above sea level, surrounded by several natural caves.

Until the early 1990s, reaching the monastery required climbing up the hill and a great deal of determination. Today, a modern cable car today connects it to Jericho with a short and stunning five-minute ride above agricultural fields.

The monastery has just one permanent resident, Father Gerassimos, an 81-year-old Greek-Orthodox monk who’s been living here for the past 30 years.

Throughout the year other monks reside with him for brief periods of time, said 34-year-old Father Galactio, who came from Greece to help Father Gerassimos for a few months.

The arrival of electricity and some modern comforts, like television and a kitchen, have changed the lifestyles of the Judean Desert monks; still, their main commitment is to praying and living a simple life.

Father Gerassimos’ daily routine walks a fine balance between isolation and openness to the outside world: He wakes up at 6 a.m., attends mass in the monastery’s church before hosting the many visitors who come every day.

The place closes at 5 p.m. Only then does Father Gerassimos resume his isolated life, just next to one of the caves inside the monastery once inhabited by Byzantine hermits.

Today that cell, with its religious icons, is part of the monastery’s tour. In the fifth century, it was the place where monks led the hard battle of spirit against flesh.

Many of them chose the Mount of Temptation – where, according to the Gospel, Jesus was tempted by the devil – as the symbol of their resistance to worldly pleasures.

Other hermits, instead, moved to the dozens of natural caves of Wadi Qelt, said Benny Arubas, an archaeologist from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, who conducted a survey of the area in the 1980s.

“We documented here a series of hermit cells. This is what you see here, the remains of those caves and built cells. They are all along these cliffs,” he said, pointing to the boundaries of a “laura,” or local community of hermits who live alone during the week and get together on weekends.

In the fifth century, several thousand monks lived here in what they called “the desert of Jerusalem.” Wadi Qelt provided them easy access to the Holy City and, at the same time, allowed them to live in seclusion.

This community of hermits diminished considerably after the Muslim conquest of the area in the mid-seventh century and the wars of the following centuries. Dozens of monasteries erected here were destroyed or abandoned and many of the hermits killed.

Still, the tradition lives on. One Romanian monk was so revered that a half-century after his death, his body remains on display inside a glass case at St. George.

“From time to time we hear or know about few monks – I mean, single ones – that practice a full ascetic life; they are being hermits, real hermits,” said Yoram Tsafrir, a retired archaeologist from the Hebrew University who has studied the Judean Desert extensively. “For how long, I don’t know, but I guess they try. This is the idea, this is the ideal, but it is very, very hard to reach that point of hermitage.”

Read on here (includes an ‘If You Go’ section).


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 15:43

Muslim Council in Egypt Evicts 8 Christian Families, Seizes their Property

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AINA reports:

National and international rights groups have consistently criticized the recourse to the so-called “reconciliation meetings” — dubbed “Bedouin sittings” — that take place between Copts and Muslim assailant after every attack on Copts. The meetings are conducted under the auspices of state security. Last week a series of meetings were held by radical Muslims to decide on the fate of the Copts in a village in Alexandria, and Muslims insisted that the whole Coptic population of 62 families must be deported because of an unsubstantiated accusation levied against one Coptic man.

Copts in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat (El-Ameriya), Alexandria, were attacked on January 27 by a mob of 3000 Muslims led by Salafi leaders, who looted and torched homes and shops belonging to Copts. The violence was prompted by allegations made by a Muslim barber named Toemah that a 34-year-old Coptic tailor, Mourad Samy Guirgis, had on his mobile phone illicit photos of a Muslim woman. Mourad denied the accusation and surrendered to the police for fear for his life. Muslims looted and torched his workshop and home after he surrendered to the police, and his entire family, including his parents and his married brother Romany, were evicted from the village. He is still in police detention. (AINA 1-28-2012).

Three “reconciliation meetings” were held at the El-Ameriya village police headquarters. They were attended by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood representatives from neighboring villages, as well as church representative. Muslims demanded the eviction of all Coptic inhabitants from the village because “Muslim honour had been damaged.”

Many believe that the mobile phone story was fabricated as an excuse to start violence against the Copts. According to the police, the woman in question denied the story and no photos were found on Mourad’s mobile phone, according to Ihab Aziz, a Coptic-American activist who is presently in Egypt.

During the first reconciliation meeting it was agreed that only Copts who were directly involved with the Mourad incident would be evicted, and the church demanded compensation of two million pounds for the innocent Copts whose homes and businesses were torched on January 27. Muslims, especially Salafis from the neighboring villages, refused any kind of compensation and insisted on the eviction of all Copts.

On January 30 a Muslim mob attacked Copts in Kobry-el-Sharbat for the second time, and torched three Coptic homes in the presence of the security forces, “which took the role of an onlooker and made no effort to stop the violence,” according to Joseph Malak, lawyer for the Coptic church in Alexandria. “This proves that the assailants were not afraid of the security forces or the law.”

Muslim representatives demanded the eviction of the wealthy Coptic merchant Abeskhayroun Soliman, together with his four married sons and their families, accusing them of causing sedition by shooting in the air when Muslims broke into and torched their home while the family was inside. “No one was wounded due to the alleged shootings, which the family says never took place. The police authorities issued an arrest warrant for two of the Soliman sons,” said Ihab Aziz…

Continue reading here.

A hat tip to Sandra for pointing this thuggery out via e-mail.

We simply must continue to pray for our persecuted brethren in Egypt!


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 14:09

An Episcopal ‘Bishop’ Takes a Shot at Rome and Fleeing Anglicans

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Writes John over at Ad Orientem:

It really is one of the more petty things I have seen written by a supposed member of the clergy.  I won’t excerpt or quote it.  If interested you can read it all here.

For those who have concluded that the Anglican Communion is a ship that has foundered and are looking for a new home, I am well aware of the temptation to think Rome is the only logical destination.  Nor will I disparage those who feel called to enter the Roman Church.

But for what it’s worth we Orthodox are also leaving the welcome mat out and the porch lite on…


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 12:38

Episcopal Church in Sharp Decline

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A statistical analysis presented to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church on 27 January 2012 reports the American church has experience a traumatic decline in all quantifiable areas of church life over the past decade.

In their 42-page PowerPoint presentation to the Executive Council, Dr. C. Kirk Hadaway and Dr. Matthew Price noted that to “get a broad-based sense of congregational vitality, we have used a number of measurements including church school enrollment, marriages, funerals, child baptisms, adult baptisms, and confirmations. These speak to a parish’s integration in the community and the possibility for future growth.”

Church school enrollment has declined by 33 per cent. The number of marriages performed declined by 41 per cent. The number of burials fell by 21 per cent. The number of child baptisms declined by 36 per cent. The number of adult baptisms declined by 40 per cent. The number of confirmations declined by 32 per cent.

“While these numbers may not capture the totality of what is happening in the Church, we do not have a measure that is moving in a positive direction,” the church’s statisticians reported.

In the six years following the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, from 2004 to 2010, the Episcopal Church’s average Sunday attendance fell by 17 per cent and its total membership declined by 13 per cent.  Of those still in the Episcopal Church as of 2010, 30 per cent were over the age of 65, where as those over 65 comprise only 13 per cent of the total U.S. population.

In addition to the church’s sharp decline in its pastoral health, the number of churches reporting financial difficulties rose sharply such that by 2010 72 per cent of congregations reported they were in “financial stress”.


Innovation and heresy clearly not paying off.


Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

February 10, 2012 at 10:40


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