Your love chases after me

Chapter 49

Good Monday evening to this new week 49 of 2023

The LORD is my shepherd. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me .I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (6b)

The hermeneutical lens of Enlightenment has proven rathar ineffective in an certain context, primarily due to its emphasis on textuality rather than orality. Many here, keenly recognize the dislocation that occurs between the text and the context. When individuals engage with the Bible, a profound “dislocation” occurs, and the emphasis shifts away from the inherent meaning of the text to the significance it holds for the readers.

The performative, oral roots of many biblical psalms can be inferred from the dynamic language of the psalmic rhetoric and from ritual literature found throughout the ancient Near East which has greatly expanded our understanding of the possible use and setting. They were chanted, and sung on a regular basis by the early third century c.e. The dramatic rise of monasticism in the fourth century, moreover, gave the Psalms additional attention: ascetics recited and chanted the psalms as daily prayer not only for personal guidance but also for spiritual warfare against demons. Much of the early Christian exegesis was, in fact, aimed at enabling the clergy, particularly monks, to sing and recite the psalms.

Those who recount Palm 23, and of course, some other specific Psalms, by writing, singing, chanting and wearing the words of this Psalm on their bodies take up the identity of ancient Israel who was the first receiver of God’s miracles. and actions. This brings out the possibility of receiving the same action of God in the history of healing, protection, provision and success.

In the words of Nasuti. One of the most important sources of the peculiar power of the Psalms lies in their ability to situate those who used them in a relationship with God because worshippers appropriate the words of the Psalms as if they were those Psalms first-person speakers.

I think Peterson understood as he wrote The Message;

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction. (Verses 1-3)

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life. Verse 6

Wishing you a great start to this new week!

Many greetings from Addis this late evening.

Divine Judge – God is not a DJ

Chapter 48

Good Tuesday Afternoon to this week 48 of 2023

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV): “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

An interesting discussion unfolded yesterday. A friend decided to plant his manioc for the second time on his plantation this year, despite the approaching dry season. Despite knowing the dry season was imminent, he had observed consistent rainfall and deemed it worthwhile. He planted his fields again and prayed for four more days of rain before the dry season set in. Remarkably, this weekend brought two consecutive rainy days.

Despite many predictions of the upcoming Harmattan season, characterized by colder temperatures and winds from the North, his prayers seemed to hold power – the rain arrived as he had wished. Now, as the heat returns in full force, it marks the optimal time to plant and witness growth. During our discussion, we dug deep into the question of where the prayers of others go when they’ve been seeking an end to the rain, hindering business and flooding roads.

His response; – “God is a judge; He will hear all prayers and judge wisely in the best interest of all!” Amen!

Wishing you all a fantastic week!

Philemon @Lomé, Togo ????☀️????️

God’s mercies – Gifts of grace

Chapter 47

Good Monday Morning to this new week 47/2023

Your accumulated offences do not surpass the multitude of God’s mercies: your wounds do not surpass the great Physician’s skill.

Hesychius lived during the fourth and fifth centuries and was a priest and a monk. He also wrote about many different things in the Church. He wrote on the Church’s history and about the problems of his day (including the Nestorian and Arian heresies). He wrote commentaries on some of the books of the Bible, meditations on the prophets. It is said that Hesychius was known to deliver Easter homilies in the basilica in Jerusalem, which is thought to be the place where Jesus was crucified. Hesychius died in 450.

The crises that the Church faces today may seem minor when compared with the threat posed by the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ and almost overcame Christianity in the fourth century. Raised in Jerusalem and well-educated, especially in the Scriptures, he was ordained a priest by the bishop of Jerusalem and given the task during Lent of catechizing those preparing for Baptism and catechizing the newly baptized during the Easter season. His Catecheses remain valuable as examples of the ritual and theology of the Church in the mid-fourth century.

A few more quotes by Hesychius of Jerusalem;

For the kingdom of heaven is not the reward of our work, but it is a gift of grace from our Lord, prepared for His faithful servants.

The wider our contemplation of creation, the grander is our conception of God.

In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures.

Drink from your own cistern, and make use of your own resources. You are not merely watering the earth but enlightening human souls.

Come hither, eat your bread with joy, that is the mystical bread.

In the person of Christ a man has not become God; God has become man.

In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures.

About the end of 350 A.D he succeeded Maximus as Bishop of Jerusalem, but was exiled on more than one occasion due to the enmity of Acacius of Caesarea, and the policies of various emperors. Cyril’s writings are filled with the loving and forgiving nature of God, which was somewhat uncommon during his time period. Cyril fills his writings with great lines of the healing power of forgiveness, such as “The Spirit comes gently and makes Himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for God is light, very light.”

Let us then, my brethren, endure in hope. Let us devote ourselves, side-by-side with our hoping, so that the God of all the universe, as he beholds our intention, may cleanse us from all sins, fill us with high hopes from what we have in hand, and grant us the change of heart that saves. God has called you, and you have your calling.

Wishing you a good start to the week, drawing inspiration from a bygone era that mirrors our current times—navigating conflicts and grappling with the challenges faced by the church and faith.


The Great Departure

Chapter 46

Good Monday Morning to this new week 46 of 2023

“That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 14; 1-4

This week, I played a role in organising an event with the church. We sought to infuse fresh elements into this annual event, beginning with a new venue, extending to the catering arrangements, and even reshaping the overall structure of the evening’s program. As the preparations unfolded, to my big astonishment” just 15 minutes before the event’s start, a chorus of skepticism echoed from various members of the employed staff. Remarks such as “this won’t work,” “we’ve always done it like this,” and predictions of inadequacy permeated the air.

In the midst of these complaints, I took a moment for reflection. Inwardly, annoyance surfaced hearing the grumbing to what we as key team had organised, prompting me to draw a parallel with the timeless narrative of the people of Israel, as well described in the book of Numbers. Their yearning for the familiarity of Egypt emerged. This longing manifested as resistance, with dissenting voices expressing doubts about the chosen path. The echoes of discontent even reached a point where some suggested the unthinkable – appointing a new leader to guide them back into the captivity of Egypt. Astonishingly, they perceived this regression as a preferable alternative to the arduous journey through the wilderness towards the promised land under their current leadership.

Recognizing this parallel, I found myself reflecting on this resistance to change ingrained in the human psyche, the magnetic pull of the familiar, and the inherent trepidation that accompanies forays into uncharted territories. Much like the Israelites navigating their discontent, our own journey to innovate and welcome change encountered a large chorus of skepticism and doubt.

Standing there, just 15 minutes before the event, I apprehensively observed the unfolding scenario. The “point of no return” had long passed, and the realization set in that the meticulously planned event would proceed as intended. Yet, amidst this realization, a palpable sense of pressure mounted. The audible grumbling reverberated through the air, revealing that many aspects of the preparations lay far beyond the comfort zones of the broader staff, who had not been intimately involved in the decision-making process for the event.

Certainly, I understand that the analogy may not be a perfect and even wrong to a certain degree, as the aspects of the past that we idealize are not directly linked to the captivity experienced by the Israelites. However, it’s intriguing how parallels emerge when we reflect on various facets of life. People often reminisce about a seemingly simpler time, citing factors such as having more time, enjoying better food, experiencing fewer illnesses, the absence of social media distractions, fewer cars on the road, and the abundance of trees— the list goes on. While acknowledging the differences in context, it’s fascinating to observe the common human tendency to romanticize aspects of the past, yearning for a time perceived as unburdened by the complexities of the present. This sentiment, though not synonymous with the Israelites’ captivity, echoes a experience in many current discussions.

In response to the rebellion, Moses and Aaron fell facedown before the assembly gathered at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Their reaction was one of humility and earnest supplication before God. Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, one of the twelve spies who had given a positive report about the Promised Land, tore their clothes in distress. They tried to reason with the people, emphasizing the goodness of the land God had promised them and urging faith in God’s ability to bring them into it.

Moses then interceded on behalf of the people before God. In Numbers 14:13-19 (NIV), Moses said:

“But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power, you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, “The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.”

Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.'”

Despite the people’s rebellion and desire to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt, Moses interceded on their behalf, appealing to God’s character and emphasizing God’s mercy and forgiveness.

This passage imparts a valuable lesson on the profound impact of humility and forgiveness. Moses, in his role as a leader, showcased a remarkable ability to navigate the tumult of discontent rooted in reflections on the past, doing so with grace. His plea to God serves as a great reminder of the transformative power inherent in forgiveness and the essential nature of collective responsibility.

Wishing you all a good start to this new week.


All the Light we cannot see

Good Monday Morning to this week 45 of 2023

Chapter 45

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

All the Light We Cannot See is a 2014 war novel by American author Anthony Doerr. The novel is set during World War II. It revolves around the characters Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl who takes refuge in her uncle’s house in Saint-Malo after France is invaded by Nazi Germany, and Werner Pfennig, a bright German boy who is accepted into a military school because of his skills in radio technology.

A few quotes to begin with;

What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.” A.D

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever. A.D

The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” A.D

or a quote I just saw recently @Netzkloster

People always look away from God, they seek Him in the light, which grows ever colder and harsher, above. – And God waits elsewhere – waits – at the very bottom of everything. Deep, where the roots are. Where it’s warm and dark. Rainer Maria Rilke

Doerr’s exploration of light transcends the visual spectrum. He beckons us to consider light beyond its visible manifestation. Marie-Laure’s blindness serves as a metaphor for this concept. It’s a reminder that there is a depth to our existence beyond what meets the eye. Her journey prompts us to reflect on the nature of perception and the vast expanse of understanding that lies beyond the confines of our senses.

The verse from Psalm 119, 105 resonates with the same theme of finding light, God’s light, God, in unexpected places and perceiving the world with more than just our physical senses.

In one of Doerr’s evocative passages, we are reminded that the brain, though shrouded in darkness within the skull, constructs a world teeming with light. It is a testament to the power of imagination, resilience, and the human capacity to find brilliance in even the bleakest of circumstances.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s words echo in harmony with Doerr’s themes. They remind us that the pursuit of God, or meaning, often leads us upwards towards the light. Yet, perhaps the true essence of our spiritual connection lies in the depths, where roots burrow and life finds its anchorage. It is in these depths, warm and cocooned in darkness, that we discover a different kind God, a God of Light waiting in the the warm dark roots of the covered soil.

As I ponder this novel, I invite you to think about your own relationship with light and with God. How often do we seek it in the obvious, the bright, and the tangible? And how frequently do we venture into the profound, the nuanced, and the unseen?

In the footsteps of Marie-Laure, let us develop a profound capacity to perceive the world, not limited to our physical sight, but extending to the depths of our hearts. Through this, we begin to recognize that authentic brilliance frequently lies concealed in the uncharted territories of life. This echoes the timeless wisdom of the Psalm, which eloquently portrays God’s guidance and wisdom as a radiant light, illuminating our journey. This radiance, though at times subtle, calls upon us to invest our trust in a transcendent wisdom, Word and Light of God that steers us through periods of uncertainty and shadows of doubt. It is in this steadfast trust that we find our way, even when the path ahead may seem obscured.

Wishing a blessed start to this week!


The Wounded Samaritan

Chapter 44

Good Monday Morning to this week 44 of 2023

A twist on the Good Samaritan Story – now called the Wounded Samaritan.

In the landscape of today’s world, the age-old parable of The Good Samaritan finds resonance in the unfolding narrative of the Wounded Samaritan. This poignant story unravels on the treacherous path from Jerusalem to Jericho, where an injured Jew, abandoned by callous passersby, discovers an unexpected ally in a Samaritan. In a world still marked by animosity and division, the Samaritan’s heart swells with empathy, compelling him to extend a helping hand.

Yet, as night blankets the land, a cruel twist of fate transforms the Samaritan from a beacon of hope into a victim of brutality. The very assailants who had inflicted harm upon the Jew, upon discovering the Samaritan’s true identity, unleash a torrent of violence. Blows fall with merciless force, resonating through the desolation. Even the wounded on the roadside muster his last ounce of strength to join in, lashing out at the Samaritan.

In the midst of this maelstrom, the Samaritan endures excruciating pain and the searing sting of rejection. The air crackles with hostility, reverberating with curses and blows. This savage assault, born of prejudice and hatred, serves as a harsh reminder of the world they inhabit. It underscores the painful reality of “when helping hurts” — a poignant lesson that even the noblest intentions can give rise to unforeseen consequences. The Samaritan’s body bears witness to the complexity of offering aid in a world scarred by division.

As the assailants retreat into the night, leaving behind a resolute yet broken Samaritan, a profound realization takes hold. He has intimately tasted the depths of human suffering and grappled with the burden of sacrificial compassion. His assistance to the wounded on the road, though partial and unreciprocated, has left him equally bruised and battered. Rising from the ground, he remains resolute, committed to both tending to the one in need and seeking help and care for himself.

Their path to healing, now intertwined, stretches ahead, paved with empathy, compassion, and sacrifice. In this poignant moment, the wounded Samaritan emerges as a living testament to the enduring power of compassion, even in the face of its harshest trials. Through their shared journey, they affirm the profound truth that, in the darkest corners of adversity, the light Gods immense Grace and love can only make a difference and change and transform hearts from deep within. There are now many “Wounded Samaritans” in the current conflict in the Middle East, but also Ukraine and Russia, or Sudan, Myanmar, the Insurgency in the Sahel/Magre, The Mexican Drug war, the Ethiopian Civil war name some of the biggest conflicts of 2023.

There are many “Wounded Samaritans” working tirelessly in many forms of social, spiritual, advocacy, pastoral, educational and healthcare settings.

Let’s pray for them that they do not succumb to hatred, complacency, or over-reliance on their on external, strength and abilities. Instead, may they find unwavering strength in God’s boundless compassion, love, and care during these critical moments of bridge-building in numerous polarized situations, wars, and conflicts.

Wishing a blessed start to this new week.


The Uncertain Samaritan

Chapter 43

Good Monday Morning to this week 43 of 2023

A God who limits himself to actions that we humans can understand couldn’t possibly be God. Hasidic

A Hasidic rabbi lost his wife and 11 children in the Holocaust. Afterwards, he was asked, “Why did miracles occur only during biblical times? Why don’t they happen in our time?” The rabbi replied, “The fact that there are Holocaust survivors who, after all they endured, can still keep faith, is itself, the greatest miracle of all.”

Over the past two weeks, we’ve explored the stories of the good Samaritan and the bad Samaritan. But what if there exists an uncertain Samaritan? Could that be reflective of us? We grapple with uncertainties in comprehending what we read and face the complexities of our ever-evolving lives. As we witness the unfolding events in the Middle East, we find ourselves questioning the decisions made by the various groups entangled in this conflict.

In Isreal, Palestine and other countries of the Middle East there are countless individuals that demonstrate profound faith, living out their beliefs amidst incredibly challenging circumstances. They selflessly serve those in desperate need, embodying love, compassion, faith, and forgiveness. Regrettably, these inspiring stories often remain overshadowed by the headlines in mainstream media.

The Allais paradox illustrates that human decision-making can be complex and influenced by a range of cognitive biases and psychological factors, challenging the assumptions of classical economic models. The Allais paradox reveals that people don’t always make decisions the way standard theory predicts. Instead of always being perfectly rational, we often make choices based on our feelings and instincts. This paradox breaks a rule in the standard theory, which says our preferences shouldn’t change when the odds or payouts of two options are adjusted equally. The Allais paradox shows that this rule doesn’t always hold in real life.

In the early 1970s, the Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky examined the Allais paradox, captivated by the mystery of why people didn’t respond to probabilities in a straightforward way. Upon rephrasing questions in terms of gains and losses, they swiftly discerned a fundamental human aversion to losses. This aversion played a significant role in our general discomfort with risk. Because we feel the negative impact of risky decisions (losses) more intensely than the benefits (gains), most risks register as unwise choices. Additionally, options that offer certainty become particularly appealing, as they carry no risk. In the words of Kahneman and Tversky, “In human decision making, losses loom larger than gains.” They termed this phenomenon “loss aversion.”

Is this where faith comes is? Is this where faith isn’t based on the “loss aversion” but has it’s roots found in the risk-taking?

Ecclesiastes 11: 4-6; As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

Connecting the Allais Paradox and Faith involves exploring the intersection of decision-making under uncertainty and matters of belief.

Embracing uncertainty through faith entails placing trust in God’s greater purpose, rather than solely relying on our own judgments. It necessitates relinquishing the need for total control, a surrender that may occur naturally given life’s unpredictable circumstances, which are all too evident in our current reality. In the teachings of Jesus, we find profound encouragement for believers to draw strength from adversity, especially in the face of uncertainty.

This sheds a beautiful light on the beatitudes. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Faith serves as a guiding compass in decision-making, often embodying principles that may not always align with conventional models or other ideas described in the Allais Paradox. Concepts such as generosity and forgiveness, rooted in faith, will significantly influence our choices. Moreover, faith is a wellspring of resilience. It doesn’t derive from anxiety surrounding uncertain decisions but rather manifests in decisions grounded in the boldness of faith and the trust in God.

May your week be filled with faith and may it be a time when many peacemakers emerge!


The Bad Samaritan

Chapter 42

Good Monday Morning to the week 42 of 2023

I felt a sense of relief as we boarded our flight out of Jordan, heading back home after an extended journey through Israel to Jordan. As I perused the inflight entertainment offerings from Turkish Airlines, I couldn’t help but reflect on my recent visit to the very spot in Israel where the story of the Good Samaritan unfolded. To my surprise, I came across the film ‘Bad Samaritan’ in the list of available movies. Although I didn’t end up watching it, the very concept intrigued me.

The “Bad Samaritan” is an inversion of the traditional notion of a “Good Samaritan”, highlighting the moral conflict and transformation that the protagonist undergoes throughout the course of the film. Instead of a person helping someone in need, the protagonist takes advantage of his job as a valet to rob houses, displaying selfish and immoral behaviour. However, his encounter with the wicked antagonist, brings him into a situation where he must confront his own actions and ultimately take on the role of a reluctant “Good Samaritan” in order to save a woman imprisoned.

Over the past week, we have been confronted with images depicting the utmost embodiment of evil, displayed in its most grotesque form imaginable. I’ve delved extensively into reports, interviews, and accounts, absorbing a great deal of information. We bore witness to the evacuation of numerous Jewish individuals from a Kibbutz along the southern border of Israel, adjacent to Gaza. Periodically, the heart-wrenching cries of mothers and fathers pierced the air of the hotel to shelter them as they received devastating news, slowly uncovering the grim details of the heinous massacre that unfolded within their homes, involving their families and children.

We bore witness to moments reminiscent of Jeremiah, where Rachel wept for her children. Then, we found solace in the verses from Isaiah 49:14-18:

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget,
I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. Your children hasten back,
and those who laid you waste depart from you. Lift up your eyes and look around;
all your children gather and come to you. As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,
you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.

These verses resonate with the profound reassurance of God’s unwavering love and remembrance, even in times of great distress.

I embarked on a journey to Israel, often sharing with our group my hope to find Jesus in Israel. As I glimpsed the land and later prepared to depart, a growing certainty settled within me – the Jesus I sought wasn’t to be found, bound to the physical terrain. We encountered vast stretches of desert, arid and devoid of life, and caught wind of the whispers of war. Soon, the echoes of rockets surrounded us, thrusting us into the heart of conflict. In the midst of chaos, my conviction deepened – Jesus wasn’t confined to this landscape. Ultimately, we navigated our way to safety, only to witness our haven, the hotel, transform into a refuge for countless people. It was in this refuge that the first stirrings of Jesus’ presence touched me. He didn’t manifest in a tangible, territorial form, but rather, in the collective comfort and embrace and solace shared among the members of the Kibbutz as they navigated their grief. There, amidst that community, I started to find Jesus in Israel.

The Jesus we follow, the one we’ve come to know through Sunday school, through the timeless stories of the Bible, through spiritual encounter, including the frequently cited parable of the Good Samaritan, has always been a beacon of compassion and kindness. But what if there’s another facet to this narrative? What if it’s not just the Good Samaritan that leads us to Jesus, but also the Bad Samaritan? Is it possible that even in the actions, seasons, times of those and that that we perceive as the “Bad Samaritan” there’s a potential pathway to Him? Could it be that in our current times, we’re witnessing this inversion of the story. These questions challenge me to reconsider my perspectives and perhaps discover Jesus in unexpected times and places.

Has Zion forsaken its people? Has He slumbered, or turned His face away? Or, perhaps, the contrary is true—now, He has turned His face again, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the forgotten and the despised. Is this the moment spoken of in Isaiah, where many will encounter Him as written, ‘I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me’.?

Wishing you an inspired start to this week as you wrestle with these tensions in your personal setting, life, church and country.


The Good Samaritan

Chapter 41

Good Monday Morning to this new week 41 of 2023

As I sit here with an amazing view of the Dead Sea, many thoughts come to my mind this Monday Morning. Through growing up in a christian family the Bible was read to me from very early on, the stories of the Bible shared at Sunday School and the became quite alive. Now I sit here in Israel, moved by all the events of yesterday, in shock with all those suffering, in mourning, taken hostage, and the on-going war that started with such surprise and intensity.

As we came out of the shelter, we made our way down from Jerusalem, down the steep highway, past the many homes of the Beduins, the story of the good Samaritan comes to my mind.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who. The Jewish traveller was stripped of clothing, beaten and left half dead alongside the road. First a Jewish priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally a Samaritan happens upon the traveller. Although both Samaritans and Jews despised one another the Samaritan helps the injured man. This all to underline the story and parable Jesus was telling in response to the question; And who is my neighbour? The neighbour in conclusion is the one who shows mercy. Some see it was allegory to Jesus story of coming to save “the other” , others see it as an example of the ethics of Jesus.

So many awful things happened in that surprise attack of the Hammas. So many in Palestine and Israel woke up to the question, who is my neighbour? Is my neighbour still my friend, be he a Jew, a Samaritan, a Muslim or another?

The Samaritan centre of worship is on Mount Gerizim in the present day West Bank, instead of Jerusalem. Yes, this parable challenges social norms and prejudice based on ethnic origin, religious affiliation and where people made their home. Today the Samaritans number only around 1000 people, most in communities outside of Tel Aviv and near the West Bank city of Nablus, where they find themselves situated between Israeli and Palestinian cultures. Most hold Israeli citizenship, and have Israeli health insurance, but many also attend Palestinian schools, speak Arabic and have both Hebrew and Arabic names. The small size of the modern Samaritan makes them easy to overlook.

For those who are willing to listen, the message of the Good Samaritan – a message of kindness, not blinded by nationalistic, religious or ethnic prejudice – resonates as loudly as it ever has.

There are many good Samaritans now in Israel. There are many good Samaritans in Palestine, many in neighbourhoods and many in Christian communities. My prayer as this new week starts that we will hear many stories of good samaritans rising up, daring to do the unexpected, to reach a hand, to go the extra mile and live the deeper meaning of this parable even in the extent of brutal violence, killing and war as we see unfolding here, once again in Israel and Palestine.

I wish you all a good start to this new week, blessed in many ways with compassion and courage to build bridges where there seem to be no more bridges.


Amaras Monastery

Chapter 40

Good Monday morning to this week 40 of 2023

As we try to understand the ongoing developments in the Lachin Corridor, a crucial chapter in history unfolds before us. Here, countless Armenians are relocating from the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region following Azerbaijan’s complete takeover. In this context, it’s good to know the deep historical and religious roots that have shaped the region, especially considering its association with St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint and evangelizer of Armenia.

Armenia, renowned as the first country to embrace Christianity, holds St. Gregory in high esteem. Born around 257, his early life was marked by adversity as his father assassinated the King of Parthia, necessitating his relocation to Caesarea in Cappadocia for protection. Raised as a Christian, he returned to Armenia around 280, initially facing harsh treatment. However, through his unwavering faith and evangelism, he led King Tiridates and a significant portion of the population to Christianity. By 300, Gregory became the first bishop of Armenia, leaving a lasting legacy that Armenians continue to honour.

In the fourth century, after Armenia’s conversion to Christianity, the Kingdom of Albania (distinct from the Balkan country of the same name) also adopted Christianity, thanks to St. Gregory’s efforts. Grigoris, St. Gregory’s grandson, was appointed the head of the Albanian Church in 330 AD. He met a martyr’s fate in 338 while spreading the faith near Derbent in the region that is now part of Russia’s Dagestan. His remains were interred in Amaras, a region that would go on to hold immense significance for the Armenian Apostolic Church and pilgrims alike.

Historical accounts suggest that St. Gregory the Illuminator established the Amaras Monastery at the start of the fourth century. It was in Amaras that St. Grigoris found his eternal resting place, with a tomb constructed beneath the apse of the nineteenth-century Church of St. Grigoris.

However, the centuries were not kind to Amaras. It suffered repeated plundering, destruction, and reconstruction. The Mongols ravaged it in the thirteenth century, Timur’s invasion razed it in 1387, and the sixteenth century saw it demolished once more. In the early seventeenth century, the surviving defensive walls underwent significant alterations. Abandoned for a time, the monastery became a frontier fortress for Russian imperial troops in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Amaras was eventually reclaimed by the Armenian Apostolic Church in 1848. The original monastery church had suffered extensive damage during its occupation, necessitating the construction of a new church dedicated to St. Grigoris in 1858. This undertaking was made possible through the contributions of Armenians from the city of Shushi.

Fast forward to the present day, and we find Amaras Monastery at the intersection of history and modernity. Amid the 2023 Nagorno-Karabakh clashes, reports emerged that the monastery came under Azerbaijani control on September 20, 2023.

Back to St Gregory …

With Gregory imprisoned in a deep pit, King Tiridat launched a brutal persecution of Christians across his realm, beginning with Hripsime, who had rejected his advances. However, Tiridat’s mental state deteriorated, and he exhibited erratic behaviour, even behaving like a wild beast while hunting. This led to the legend that he had transformed into a boar.

Despite the efforts of a beloved king and Tiridat’s sister, Khosrovidought, to restore his sanity, their attempts proved futile. Khosrovidought had a dream in which she saw Gregory emerging from the dungeon and healing her brother. She shared her dream with the royal court, proclaiming that Gregory was alive and the only one capable of curing the King.

As Tiridat’s condition worsened, men ventured to the pit and, to their astonishment, heard a faint “yes” in response to the question: “Gregory, are you still alive?” They lowered a rope and rescued a man with a long beard and tattered clothes. Despite his disheveled appearance, Gregory’s face radiated an inner light. After dressing him appropriately, they presented him to Tiridat.

Overwhelmed by an uncontrollable force, Tiridat knelt before his former prisoner. Gregory placed his hands on the King’s head and prayed. Miraculously, Tiridat was healed and transformed into a new man. He declared, “Your God is my God; your religion is my religion.” Gregory lifted him up and embraced him. From that moment until their deaths, they remained faithful friends and worked together, each in their own way, to establish the Kingdom of God in Armenia, beginning in the year 301 AD.

Gregory initially converted the people in the capital city and its vicinity. However, the severe persecutions by Tiridat had left Armenia devoid of bishops and clergymen. Consequently, Gregory, who was still a layman, had no one to baptize the new believers. The Royal Council made the decision to send Gregory to Cæsarea to be ordained as the bishop of Armenia. By that time, his reputation as a miraculous confessor and a remarkable missionary had already spread far and wide to Cæsarea and beyond.

The story of Amaras Monastery and St Gregory is a testament to the enduring spiritual significance of Armenia and its people, even in the face of historical trials and unprecedented challenges.

I wish you an inspired start to this new week.