Ethiopian Monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City

The Ethiopians have no property in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, only access rights; but they do have a little monastery nearby, known as Deir es-Sultan, that is worth a visit.

Haaretz has the article:

Jerusalem speaks with many voices, and in a babble of tongues. Nowhere is this more in evidence than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the heart of the Old City’s Christian Quarter. The cavernous medieval structure stands, it is believed, where Jesus was crucified and buried. It is shared today – unequally and uneasily – by several Christian denominations (none of them Protestant). The Greek Orthodox are the major “shareholders,” followed by the Roman Catholics (“Latins”), Armenian Orthodox, Copts (Egyptian) and the marginalized Syriac Orthodox.

The Ethiopians have no property in the Holy Sepulcher, only access rights; but they have a little monastery, known as Deir es-Sultan, on the roof of a medieval annex. The entrance to the compound is from the Ninth Station of the Cross, up a slightly obscured stairway off Suq Khan e-Zeit, the artery of the Arab market that slices from the Damascus Gate toward the Jewish Quarter. If you can spot a sign on the street leading up to Mike’s Center, a hole-in-the-wall Internet café halfway up the stairway, you’re home free.

Step into the Ethiopian courtyard opposite the Coptic monastery. A weeping willow (rather symbolically) casts some shade across the bare stones, where a defunct water pump, ruined Gothic arches and tiny monks’ cells cower under a skyline of rival crosses. The Ethiopian church has known better days: it lost its lands in a Marxist coup in the 1970s, and the gentle monks sent to the holy city live quietly in scriptural poverty.

In the middle of the courtyard is a small domed structure. Put your ear to one of the barred windows and you’re likely to hear voices from the Chapel of the Cross far below. Once part of the larger Church of the Holy Sepulcher of the Byzantine period, and only accessible from within today’s church, the chapel is also known as the Chapel of St. Helena, for the mother of Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor. The devout empress visited the Holy Land in 326 CE and initiated the building of the first major sanctuaries, among them the Holy Sepulcher itself and Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The basement chapel is reputed to be the spot where Helena found the True Cross.

Duck through the low stone doorway into a tiny Ethiopian church. The wooden screen at its eastern end is topped by an image of Jesus on the cross. Above his head is a plaque with the translation in Ge’ez (the Ethiopian ecclesiastical language) of “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” recorded in the New Testament as the inscription affixed to the cross. Conventional Western art shows the feet of Jesus crossed, but here they appear separated and resting on a block of wood – a more realistic depiction, say some scholars. Beneath the cross, the blood of Jesus drips through a crack in the rock onto a human skull, said to be that of Adam, the first man – a legendary explanation for why the site of the crucifixion is known as Calvary or Golgotha (the place of the skull).

On the long wall of the chapel is a 20th century oil painting depicting the biblical story of the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon to “prove his wisdom” with “hard questions.” Her impressive kingdom apparently included Yemen and northern Ethiopia; and she came with a great entourage bearing wondrous gifts. Among Solomon’s counselors in the rendition appear two (startling!) latter-day ultra-Orthodox Jews, complete with the black Hassidic garb so common in the modern city. The artist apparently looked around and identified the most Jewish-looking people for inclusion in his modest masterpiece.

According to Ethiopian tradition, more transpired between the two monarchs during the visit than is recounted in the Bible, and the Queen of Sheba returned home pregnant. The son she bore was Menelik, destined to become the first Ethiopian emperor. The Ethiopian version of events is that the boy was groomed for greatness in his mother’s court, and when he came of age was sent to Israel as heir-apparent to the throne of his biological father.

King Solomon’s legitimate sons did not welcome the interloper, and the king realized there was nothing for it but to send the young man home again. But not empty-handed, surely! At Menelik’s request, says the tradition, he was given an army of the first-born of every family in Israel and the unique, irreplaceable Ark of the Covenant (some versions say “merely” an entourage of aristocrats and priests and a replica of the Ark). According to the Ethiopians, the Ark survives in a carefully guarded sealed crypt beneath a church in Ethiopia.

From the chapel, where a brass plate lies for visitors’ offerings, descend to a lower-level chapel and out the back door to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulcher.



Outrage Over Syrian Rebels Assaulting Monastery, Killing Hermit


A revered Syrian monk and hermit, Father Franҫois Mourad, has been killed during an assault of the Franciscan monastery in a predominantly Christian village in the north near the Turkish border, Vatican Radio reported.

The circumstances surrounding Mourad’s death in the monastery of St. Anthony of Padua, about 70 miles from Syria’s largest city Aleppo, remain unclear.

It’s believed that Maroud was shot dead when tried to defend several religious sisters from the rebels when the monastery that gave them shelter was attacked and pillaged on June 23.

In a statement issued earlier this week the Prefect Cardinal Leonardo Sandri said that “this latest episode of unjustified violence, arouse the conscience of the leaders of the conflicting parties and the international community, so that, as repeatedly stated by the Holy Father Pope Francis, the guns of war be silenced and a season of justice and reconciliation begun for a future of peace.”

After the outbreak of the war in Syria, Father François left his hermitage to be with a friar in fragile health and to serve a neighboring community of religious sisters, Vatican Radio reported.

The head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told Vatican Radio that Mourad was not a Franciscan, but had to take refuge in the convent after it became clear he was not safe at the Syriac Catholic hermitage that he was building nearby.

According to Father Pizzaballa, the Ghassanieh neighborhood “like other Christian villages, has been almost completely destroyed and is almost totally abandoned,” adding that the only people left there were “the rebels with their families, rebels who are not from Syria and who are extremists.”

“The only thing we can do, other than pray for Father Francois and all the victims, is pray that this folly ends soon and that no more weapons are sent to Syria because that would only prolong this absurd civil war,” Father Pizzaballa suggested.

He described the current situation in Syria as a “battleground, and not just between Syrian forces, but also for other Arab countries and the international community. The ones paying the price are the poor, the small and the least, including the Christians,” according to the Catholic News Service.

“The international community must put the brakes on this,” he noted.

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassake-Nisibi told Fides (the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) that Father Mourad sent him “several messages which showed he was aware of living in a dangerous situation and was willing to offer his life for peace in Syria and the world.”

Killings and abductions have become common in Syria as the country has been locked in a two-year internal conflict. In April, two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped when they returned to Aleppo from the Turkish border. Their driver was killed.

Syria’s 10 percent Christian population is particularly vulnerable to such attacks, especially from the opposition groups, as they have remained largely neutral or supportive of the government.


The Gospel of Tony Soprano

Fr Edward L. Beck writes:

The only time I met James Gandolfini, we talked about God.

It was a chance meeting at the Broadway play “God of Carnage,” in which he was acting. I went backstage to see someone else but was introduced to James.

When he heard that I was a priest he laughed and said, “Gee, Father, I hope you didn’t think this was a play about God.”

“No, I didn’t,” I said, “but I was surprised to find out that it actually was.”

He looked perplexed by my answer, hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Well, we’ll have to talk about that sometime.”

Of course, we never did. It was the first and last time I saw him.

I had, however, seen him many times on television in one of my favorite shows, “The Sopranos.”

Perhaps it’s unwise for a Catholic priest to admit being a “Sopranos” fan, but I confess to having used it more than once as fodder for a Sunday homily. I happen to think it was one of the most spiritual shows on television. Had I told James that, he might have been as surprised as he was by my “God of Carnage” quip…

Read on at CNN.



Anglican Priest Finds Bracelet, Tries To Sell To Owners

How selfish and greedy:

Maybe he thought the Lord said “finders keepers, losers weepers.”

An Australian Anglican priest who found a $6,500 bracelet and tried to sell it back to the owners has been humbled — and perhaps will be defrocked.

After media outcry and shaming from his archbishop boss, the Rev. Terry McAuliffe returned the diamond bracelet to Perth restauranteurs Clyde and Lesley Bevan Wednesday afternoon, Clyde Bevan told The Huffington Post.

The priest didn’t seem embarrassed during the exchange at the clergyman’s house, Bevan said.

But perhaps he should be: After reporting the lost bracelet to police, McAuliffe claimed it as his own and tracked down the owners through the bracelet’s security code. He then offered to return the jewelry to them for 50 percent of the value while the Bevans recover the loss by filing an insurance claim, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The reverend, a former lawyer, told outlets that his discovery was a “gift fallen from the sky.”

“I’m just offering to share the windfall,” he said.

But Wednesday, the only sharing seemed to be scorn for his actions.

“It’s certainly amazing and bizarre behavior,” Bevan said to HuffPost.

The Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, told the AAP that McAuliffe’s actions were “reprehensible” and that while the priest may have followed the law by asserting ownership after a few months, people expect more from religious leaders. The archbishop also said discipline could include McAuliffe’s removal from his post at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

Bevan, who runs a restaurant called Friends with his wife, said Lesley happily wore the bracelet, which he gave to her as a birthday gift eight years ago. He thanked the press.

“If it wasn’t for the media asking probing questions and basically chasing him down the street with cameras, it wouldn’t have happened,” he explained.

He said that McAuliffe’s actions didn’t dim his view of the clergy. He explained that other priests had taken up a collection to pay the reverend for the bracelet in case he didn’t give it back.

“It restores my faith,” Bevan said.

‘Fallen from the sky’?!

The West Australian also has the story.