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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Metropolitan Manuel Lemeshevsk: “This Was From Me”

Have you ever thought that everything that touches you touches Me as well? For that which touches you touches the apple of My eye.
You are dear in my eyes, precious, and I have loved you; therefore it is a particular pleasure for Me to educate you.
When temptations arise against you, and the enemy comes like a river, I want you to know—This was from Me.
Your weakness needs My strength, and your safety comes from giving Me the opportunity to fight for you. If you find yourself in difficult circumstances, among people who do not understand you, who do not take what you like into consideration, who alienate you—This was from Me.
I am God, Who arranges circumstances. It was no accident that you find yourself in the place where you are; this is the place I have appointed for you. Did you not ask that I teach you humility? Well, then, look: I have placed you in precisely that place, in that school, where this lesson is learned. Your surroundings and those who live with you are only fulfilling My will. If you find yourself in financial difficulty, if you find it hard to make ends meet—This was from Me.
For I have your material means at my disposal. I want you to call unto me, for you to be dependant upon Me. My reserves are inexhaustible. I want you to be confirmed in fidelity to Me and to My promises. May it not be said to you in your need: You did not believe in the Lord your God.
Are you in a night of suffering? Are you separated from your loved ones and those close to your heart? This was from Me.
I am the Man of suffering, Who has tasted affliction. I have allowed this so that you would turn to Me, so that in Me you would find eternal comfort. If you have been let down by your friend, to someone to whom you opened your heart—This was from Me.
I allowed this disappointment to touch you so that you would know that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and to speak to Me.
Has someone slandered you? Give this to me, and bring your soul closer to Me, your Refuge, to hide from the contradiction of the nations. I shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. If your plans have been destroyed, if you are downtrodden in soul and tired—This was from Me.
You made plans, and brought them to Me, so that I would bless them. But I want you to leave Me in charge of the circumstances of your life, and then responsibility for everything will be Mine, for this is too difficult for you; by yourself you can not manage them, for you are only an instrument, and not the actor. If unanticipated problems of life have visited you, and if despondency has seized your heart, then know—This was from Me.
For I want your heart and your soul to be always aflame before My eyes; to conquer faint-heartedness of the soul in My name. If you do not hear from your dear ones and friends for a long time, and in your faint-heartedness fall into despondency and grumbling, know—This was from Me.
By this anguish in your spirit, I test the strength of your faith in the surity of My promise and the strength of your boldness in prayer for these dear ones of yours. Was it not you who entrusted them to the Protection of My All-Pure Mother? Was it not you who once entrusted their care to My providential love? If serious illness, either temporary or incurable, has visited you, and has confined to your bed, then know—This was from Me.
For I want you to know Me even more deeply in you bodily infirmities, so that you would not grumble over this trial sent to you, that you would not try to penetrate My plans through different means for the salvation of peoples souls, but that you would uncomplainingly and submissively bow you neck under My goodness towards you. If you have dreamed of performing some special deed for Me, and instead haven fallen onto a bed of sickness and weakness—This was from Me.
Then you would have been immersed in your activities, and I would not have been able to attract your thoughts to Me, for I want to teach you My deepest thoughts and lessons, so that you would be in My service. I want to teach you to recognize that you are nothing. Some of My best co-workers are those who have been cut off from vital activity, that they would learn to wield the weapon of unceasing prayer.
Have you unexpectedly been called to occupy a difficult and responsible position? Go, place it on Me. I entrust these difficulties to you so that the Lord God would bless you for this in all your deeds, on all your paths, in everything that will done by your hands. On this day I put into your hands a vessel of holy oil. Use it generously, My children! Every difficulty that arises, every word that insults you, every obstacle to your work that could elicit in you a feeling of annoyance, every revelation of your weakness and inability, shall be anointed with this oil.
Remember that every obstacle is a Divine instruction. Every sting will be dulled when you learn to see Me in everything that touches you. Therefore place the word I have declared to you today in your heart: This was from Me. For this is not an empty matter for you—this is your life.
Translator’s note: 
Inasmuch as the above text was distributed for from hand-to-hand in samizdat form for several decades, printed versions include competing explanations of its authorship and origin. The most common attribution is to St Seraphim of Viritsa, who was said to have written it in 1937 to a certain bishop, his spiritual son, who was at the time in prison. It is almost entirely certain, however, that the author is in fact Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky) of Kuibyshev and Syzran (1884-1968). It is known that St Seraphim of Viritsa and Metropolitan Manuel were acquainted, and therefore it could be speculated that this meditation represents the latter’s record of the saint’s spiritual teaching.

Food: Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen

Make muscle pain a memory with ginger
20 Pain                                                          Cures You Can                                                          Find in Your                                                          Kitchen
When Danish researchers asked achy people to jazz up their diets with ginger, it eased muscle and joint pain, swelling and stiffness for up to 63 percent of them within two months. Experts credit ginger’s potent compounds called gingerols, which prevent the production of pain-triggering hormones. The study-recommended dose: Add at least 1 teaspoon of dried ginger or 2 teaspoons of chopped ginger to meals daily.
Cure a toothache with cloves
20 Pain                                                          Cures You Can                                                          Find in Your                                                          Kitchen
Got a toothache and can’t get to the dentist? Gently chewing on a clove can ease tooth pain and gum inflammation for two hours straight, say UCLA researchers. Experts point to a natural compound in cloves called eugenol, a powerful, natural anesthetic. Bonus: Sprinkling a 슠 teaspoon of ground cloves on meals daily may also protect your ticker. Scientists say this simple action helps stabilize blood sugar, plus dampen production of artery-clogging cholesterol in as little as three weeks.
Heal heartburn with cider vinegar
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Sip 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with 8 ounces of water before every meal, and experts say you could shut down painful bouts of heartburn in as little as 24 hours. “Cider vinegar is rich in malic and tartaric acids, powerful digestive aids that speed the breakdown of fats and proteins so your stomach can empty quickly, before food washes up into the esophagus, triggering heartburn pain,” explains Joseph Brasco, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the Center for Colon and Digestive Diseases in Huntsville, AL.
Erase earaches with garlic
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Painful ear infections drive millions of Americans to doctors’ offices every year. To cure one fast, just place two drops of warm garlic oil into your aching ear twice daily for five days. This simple treatment can clear up ear infections faster than prescription meds, say experts at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Scientists say garlic’s active ingredients (germanium, selenium, and sulfur compounds) are naturally toxic to dozens of different pain-causing bacteria. To whip up your own garlic oil gently simmer three cloves of crushed garlic in a half a cup of extra virgin olive oil for two minutes, strain, then refrigerate for up to two weeks, suggests Teresa Graedon, Ph.D., co-author of the book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. For an optimal experience, warm this mix slightly before using so the liquid will feel soothing in your ear canal.
Chase away joint and headache pain with cherries
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Latest studies show that at least one in four women is struggling with arthritis, gout or chronic headaches. If you’re one of them, a daily bowl of cherries could ease your ache, without the stomach upset so often triggered by today’s painkillers, say researchers at East Lansing ’s Michigan State University . Their research reveals that anthocyanins, the compounds that give cherries their brilliant red color, are anti-inflammatories 10 times stronger than ibuprofen and aspirin. “Anthocyanins help shut down the powerful enzymes that kick-start tissue inflammation, so they can prevent, as well as treat, many different kinds of pain,” explains Muraleedharan Nair, Ph.D., professor of food science at Michigan State University . His advice: Enjoy 20 cherries (fresh, frozen or dried) daily, then continue until your pain disappears.
Fight tummy troubles with fish
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases…if your belly always seems to be in an uproar, try munching 18 ounces of fish weekly to ease your misery. Repeated studies show that the fatty acids in fish, called EPA and DHA, can significantly reduce intestinal inflammation, cramping and belly pain and, in some cases, provide as much relief as corticosteroids and other prescription meds. “EPA and DHA are powerful, natural, side effect-free anti-inflammatories, that can dramatically improve the function of the entire gastrointestinal tract,” explains biological chemist Barry Sears, Ph.D., president of the Inflammation Research Foundation in Marblehead , MA . For best results, look for oily fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, trout and herring.
Prevent PMS with yogurt
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Up to 80 percent of women will struggle with premenstrual syndrome and its uncomfortable symptoms, report Yale researchers. The reason: Their nervous systems are sensitive to the ups and downs in estrogen and progesterone that occur naturally every month. But snacking on 2 cups of yogurt a day can slash these symptoms by 48 percent, say researchers at New York ’s Columbia University . “Yogurt is rich in calcium, a mineral that naturally calms the nervous system, preventing painful symptoms even when hormones are in flux,” explains Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a professor of gynecology at Yale University .
Tame chronic pain with turmeric
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Studies show turmeric, a popular East Indian spice, is actually three times more effective at easing pain than aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen, plus it can help relieve chronic pain for 50 percent of people struggling with arthritis and even fibromyalgia, according to Cornell researchers. That’s because turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, naturally shuts down cyclooxygenase 2, an enzyme that churns out a stream of pain-producing hormones, explains nutrition researcher Julian Whitaker, M.D. and author of the book, Reversing Diabetes. The study-recommended dose: Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of this spice daily onto any rice, poultry, meat or vegetable dish.
End endometrial pain with oats
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
The ticket to soothing endometriosis pain could be a daily bowl of oatmeal. Endometriosis occurs when little bits of the uterine lining detach and grow outside of the uterus. Experts say these migrating cells can turn menstruation into a misery, causing so much inflammation that they trigger severe cramping during your period, plus a heavy ache that drags on all month long. Fortunately, scientists say opting for a diet rich in oats can help reduce endometrial pain for up to 60 percent of women within six months. That’s because oats don’t contain gluten, a trouble-making protein that triggers inflammation in many women, making endometriosis difficult to bear, explains Peter Green, M.D., professor of medicine at Colombia University .
Soothe foot pain with salt
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Experts say at least six million Americans develop painful ingrown toenails each year. But regularly soaking ingrown nails in warm salt water baths can cure these painful infections within four days, say scientists at California ’s Stanford University . The salt in the mix naturally nixes inflammation, plus it’s anti-bacterial, so it quickly destroys the germs that cause swelling and pain. Just mix 1 teaspoon of salt into each cup of water, heat to the warmest temperature that you can comfortably stand, and then soak the affected foot area for 20 minutes twice daily, until your infection subsides.
Prevent digestive upsets with pineapple
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Got gas? One cup of fresh pineapple daily can cut painful bloating within 72 hours, say researchers at California ’s Stanford University . That’s because pineapple is natually packed with proteolytic enzymes, digestive aids that help speed the breakdown of pain-causing proteins in the stomach and small intestine, say USDA researchers.
Relax painful muscles with peppermint
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Suffering from tight, sore muscles? Stubborn knots can hang around for months if they aren’t properly treated, says naturopath Mark Stengler, N.D., author of the book, The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies. His advice: Three times each week, soak in a warm tub scented with 10 drops of peppermint oil. The warm water will relax your muscles, while the peppermint oil will naturally soothe your nerves — a combo that can ease muscle cramping 25 percent more effectively than over-the-counter painkillers, and cut the frequency of future flare-ups in half, says Stengler.
Give your back some TLC with grapes
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Got an achy back? Grapes could be the ticket to a speedy recovery. Recent studies at Ohio State University suggest eating a heaping cup of grapes daily can relax tight blood vessels, significantly improving blood flow to damaged back tissues (and often within three hours of enjoying the first bowl). That’s great news because your back’s vertebrae and shock-absorbing discs are completely dependent on nearby blood vessels to bring them healing nutrients and oxygen, so improving blood flow is essential for healing damaged back tissue, says Stengler.
Wash away pain injuries with water
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Whether it’s your feet, your knees or your shoulders that are throbbing, experts at New York ’s Manhattan College , say you could kick-start your recovery in one week just by drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Why? Experts say water dilutes, and then helps flush out, histamine, a pain-triggering compound produced by injured tissues. “Plus water is a key building block of the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones, your joints’ lubricating fluid, and the soft discs in your spine,” adds Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., author of the book, The Good Mood Diet. “And when these tissues are well-hydrated, they can move and glide over each other without causing pain.” One caveat: Be sure to measure your drinking glasses to find out how large they really are before you start sipping, she says. Today’s juice glasses often hold more than 12 ounces, which means five servings could be enough to meet your daily goal.
Heal sinus problems with horseradish
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Latest studies show sinusitis is the nation’s number one chronic health problem. And this condition doesn’t just spur congestion and facial pain, it also makes sufferers six times more likely to feel achy all-over. Horseradish to the rescue! According to German researchers, this eye-watering condiment naturally revs up blood flow to the sinus cavities, helping to open and drain clogged sinuses and heal sinus infections more quickly than decongestant sprays do. The study-recommended dose: One teaspoon twice daily (either on its own, or used as a sandwich or meat topping) until symptoms clear.
Beat bladder infections with blueberries
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Eating 1 cup of blueberries daily, whether you opt for them fresh, frozen or in juice form, can cut your risk of a urinary tract infection (UTIs) by 60 percent, according to researchers at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. That’s because blueberries are loaded with tannins, plant compounds that wrap around problem-causing bacteria in the bladder, so they can’t get a toehold and create an infection, explains Amy Howell, Ph.D. a scientist at Rutgers University .
Heal mouth sores with honey
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Dab painful canker and cold sores with unpasteurized honey four times daily until these skin woes disappear, and they’ll heal 43 percent faster than if you use a prescription cream, say researchers at the Dubai Specialized Medical Center in the United Arab Emirates . Raw honey’s natural enzymes zap inflammation, destroy invading viruses and speed the healing of damaged tissues, say the study authors.
Fight breast pain with flax
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
In one recent study, adding 3 tablespoons of ground flax to their daily diet eased breast soreness for one in three women within 12 weeks. Scientists credit flax’s phytoestrogens, natural plant compounds that prevent the estrogen spikes that can trigger breast pain. More good news: You don’t have to be a master baker to sneak this healthy seed into your diet. Just sprinkle ground flax on oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce or add it to smoothies and veggie dips.
Cure migraines with coffee
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
Prone to migraines? Try muscling-up your painkiller with a coffee chaser. Whatever over-the-counter pain med you prefer, researchers at the National Headache Foundation say washing it down with a strong 12- ounce cup of coffee will boost the effectiveness of your medication by 40 percent or more. Experts say caffeine stimulates the stomach lining to absorb painkillers more quickly and more effectively.
Tame leg cramps with tomato juice
20 Pain Cures You Can Find in Your Kitchen
At least one in five people regularly struggle with leg cramps. The culprit? Potassium deficiencies, which occur when this mineral is flushed out by diuretics, caffeinated beverages or heavy perspiration during exercise. But sip 10 ounces of potassium-rich tomato juice daily and you’ll not only speed your recovery, you’ll reduce your risk of painful cramp flare-ups in as little as 10 days, say UCLA researchers.

Mount Athos: Information for pilgrims and tourists

Holy Executive
οf the Holy Mount Athos
Pilgrims’ bureau

Mount Athos, known in Greek as Agios Oros (Holy Mountain Athos), is a peninsula in Halkidiki, Northern Greece. This sacred area contains twenty monasteries including one Serbian, one Bulgarian and one Russian. Although the peninsula of Athos is part of Greece, it enjoys certain autonomy. The «Holy Community» under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul administrates the region. This administrative body is composed of representatives of the monasteries and maintains an office at Karyes (Iera Epistasia) where all visitors register upon arrival at Mount Athos.

Only adult men and young males accompanied by their fathers are permitted to enter Mount Athos. This rule, which is known as the “avaton”, forbids access to Mount Athos to any female and this is enforced by the law. Moreover, young men who are accompanied by a guardian or adult group leader visiting Mount Athos for educational purpose need the written consent of their parents, verified by an official authority of their country.

In accordance with the procedures established by the Greek Government, foreigners must obtain a written permit to visit Mount Athos from the «HOLY EXECUTIVE OF THE HOLY MOUNT ATHOS – PILGRIMS’ BUREAU»  located in Thessaloniki. Reservations are made six months in advance by phone (+30 2310 25 78) or  fax (+30 2310 22 24 24) or e-mail ( ).

The deliverance of this permit is carried out by the «Pilgrims’ Office» branch in Oouranoupolis. Personal appearance and passport /ID is required in order to obtain this permit. A letter of recommendation is no longer required.
The office in Thessaloniki is open from Monday through Saturday (9.00h – 04.00 h). It is closed on Sundays and official holidays.

The office in Ouranoupolis is open from Monday through Sunday from 07.30h – 13.00h.

In general, the «HOLY EXECUTIVE OF THE HOLY MOUNT ATHOS-PILGRIMS’ BUREAU» issues only ten permits a day for non-orthodox visitors (foreigners) and 100 for Greeks and Orthodox visitors. These permits are valid for a four-day visit on specific dates. Prolongation of the four-day validity can be issued from Mt. Athos authorities in Karyes. Clergymen should obtain in advance a written consent (Evlogia) from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople by writing to: The Ecumenical Patriarchate, Fnari, Istanbul, Turkey, tel (            +90 21 25 34 90 37      ).

Upon arrival in Ouranoupolis, the port where the boats depart for Mt Athos, visitors must obtain a residence permit «Diamonitirio». This permit allows the visitor to visit and stay at the monasteries of his choice and costs 30 euros. Students who can prove their student status through a school ID pay only 10 euros. Visitors should be in Ouranoupolis no later than 09.00h or the at the dock of Ierissos no later than 08.30h . The boat departures are 09.45h (from Ouranoupolis) and 08.40 (from Ierissos). The holder of a permit may proceed to Mount Athos without any other formalities.

The Monasteries do not charge for their hospitality, but donations are accepted. Most of the monasteries and Sketes require prior arrangements for the accommodation.
Mount Athos visitors should be decently attired. In the event of misconduct , a permit can be with drawn. Severe penalties are enforced against anyone who attempts  to remove religious items from Mount Athos collections. While taking photographs is permitted, the use of video and movie cameras is strictly forbidden. Also, because hunting is strictly forbidden in Mount Athos, hunting dogs and rifles are strictly forbidden.

Following you can find information on bus and boat schedules and some useful telephone numbers (It is advisable to check timetables before departure because they are subject to change).

tel.             +30 2310 316 555      , web site

DEPARTURES BY BUS – DAILY : Thessaloniki – Ouranoupolis (148 km, 3hours).
The first bus is at 05.30h.

Ouranoupolis – Daphne: (2hours) at 09.45h
Daphne – Ouranoupolis (2hours) at 12.00h.

There is a boat connection with the 06.15h bus from Thessaloniki, as well as with the domestic bus Daphne – Karyes (12 km).


Tony Blair ready for a big new role - Messiah complex: an exclusive interview

We are sitting on the rooftop terrace of the Office of the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair’s part-time job mediating between Israelis and Palestinians. The sun is going down but the light is still dazzling. Trim and tanned, Blair is wearing his third shirt of the day, a white twill with a middle button unaccountably absent. To the left looms the Mount of Olives overlooking East Jerusalem; behind us, the Golden Dome of the Rock, built in AD 691 by Caliph Abdul Malik ibn Marwan on top of the Second Jewish Temple. Blair’s youthful staff is expert in stage management, and the man they call “TB” or simply “Boss” is at his most fluent as he moves effortlessly across geopolitical time zones. 
Time to lob a gentle grenade …

Barber: “Some people would say, ‘He loved power; he was right on top of the world for 10 years, and now he wants to be top of the world in business; he’s very competitive, that’s why he never passes the ball on a football field; he loves scoring goals … ’”

Blair: “That is not true! That really is a lie; whoever is telling you that is lying. That is not true. Get me my lawyer! Get my expensive American lawyer.”

Barber: “So are you prepared to go on the record and say that you are prepared to pass to people so that they can score goals?”

Blair: “I certainly am, partly because I was never very good at scoring them myself.”

Barber: “But you are very competitive.”

Blair: “Look, I am very competitive.”

Barber: “And you like making a lot of money … ”

Blair (exasperated): “This notion that I want to be a billionaire with a yacht; I don’t! I am never going to be part of the super-rich. I have no interest in that at all.”

Blair’s disclaimer is hard to square with the millions of pounds he has earned since leaving Downing Street, still less with the über-rich company he now keeps, including the Murdochs, assorted American evangelicals and Middle East potentates. So what exactly is driving Tony Blair, five years on from his reluctant departure as prime minister on June 27 2007 after a decade in power? Is it money, power or religion (he very publicly converted to Catholicism after leaving Downing Street); or is it something more basic: the desire to remain relevant, to be the centre of attention?

Blair’s activities can be found on The Office of Tony Blair website: the African Governance Initiative; the Office of the Quartet Representative; the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, promoting tolerance and understanding among different religions; the Tony Blair Sports Foundation, helping youngsters in his political backyard in north-east England; and Breaking the Climate Deadlock, a foundation devoted to dealing with climate change. Conspicuously absent is any reference to Tony Blair Associates, the trading name of his business advisory service.

Some of Blair’s closest friends say he has spread himself too thin. “He lacks focus,” says one, “someone needs to tell him – but there isn’t anyone around any more to do so.” These friends declined to be quoted for this article, but they worry privately that Blair’s multiple roles are an invitation to conflicts of interest, especially when it comes to taking money from despotic governments such as Kazakhstan. 
“There is always a fine line to be drawn between what is proper and where you are simply turning a blind eye,” says a senior Labour party figure.
Blair has promised to address these issues during our two-hour conversation in Jerusalem, and to deal with the vexed question of money, a source of criticism in the British media but also elsewhere. Earlier this year, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US national security adviser, told the FT that he had a “visceral contempt” for Blair on account of his moralising and money-making since leaving office.

Soon after he stepped down, Blair accepted an invitation to join JP Morgan’s international advisory board. The Wall Street investment bank now pays him about £2.5m a year (Blair refuses to state a precise number on or off the record). In return, he gives speeches and provides “strategic advice” to senior clients and the bank’s board. He occupies a similar role with Zurich Insurance Group, albeit at a lower fee. He gives speeches at a rate of up to $300,000 a session, depending on the location, according to aides. These interests comprise most of his personal portfolio. The corporate and tax arrangements were drawn up partly on the advice of Robert Barnett, the Washington super-lawyer who looked after Bill Clinton when he left office. Barnett also negotiated Clinton’s and Blair’s book deals. (A Journey was a bestseller in Britain and Blair later gave the £4m advance to the Royal British Legion, a veterans’ charity.) Unlike Clinton, Blair takes money directly from governments, and is not obliged to disclose the amounts (as he would be under US law). He also runs a lucrative private business consultancy, making introductions, opening doors and taking a cut on any future deals.

He now divides the modern world between “the open-minded and closed-minded”. This division is as important as the old ideological struggle between left and right. The new battleground is the Middle East, between those willing to address their problems and those who blame them on “some sort of oppression or indignity visited upon them by someone else”.
How does his new insight apply to Afghanistan and Iraq, where along with his bosom ally President George W. Bush, he launched two wars of choice? 
“What is very clear now is that the problem is, when you take the lid off these deeply oppressive and dictatorial regimes, out comes the pouring of a whole lot of religious, tribal, cultural, ethnic poison, which is then multiplied by the actors in the region who are engaged on either side of this battle between modernisation and atavism.” Yet that was exactly what a small army of experts was telling him privately and publicly before the invasion of Iraq. So does he now accept they were right? Blair concedes the critique about invasions uncorking sectarian rivalry is “absolutely fair”, but it does not weaken the case for removing Saddam or diminish his general argument: that the age of the secular dictators is over and that the west cannot allow the ensuing power vacuum to be filled by radical Islam.

In Blair’s view, this lesson applies to Iraq, but also to Egypt, Libya, Syria and other countries convulsed by the Arab spring. He now favours evolutionary change, coaxing dictators to step down rather than stirring popular revolution. That prospect, he now concedes, probably never existed in Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya; it has evaporated in President Assad’s Syria. Therefore it is time to consider intervention, not on the Iraq model, but “muscular, soft diplomacy combined with the judicious use of force” to protect the civilian population and create the space for economic and political reform.
Blair concedes he would now rewrite his famous 1999 Chicago speech that preached the virtues of intervention to protect human rights (inspired by British military successes in Kosovo and Sierra Leone). But he insists the west must “will the means” to pursue sustained engagement, “very openly supporting economic modernisation, social modernisation”. This sounds suspiciously like a re-run of Afghanistan, where the US, its allies and others have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to drag the country into the 21st century. Is this really feasible for an exhausted, indebted west? 
It sounds to me more like the stuff of Roman legions.

Blair shakes hand with Bedouin leaders on the West Bank
Blair with Bedouin leaders on the West Bank

©Jillian Edelstein

We shift focus to Britain today and its relationship with continental Europe, which Blair believes is at a historic turning point. The eurozone crisis will force the EU into a new phase of integration and Britain must be at the negotiating table. He calls for a “grand bargain” in which Germany agrees to stand by the euro via a mutualisation of outstanding debt and inflation of their economy. In return, debtor countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain must agree to strict rules on public deficits and deep-seated reforms in the labour market, pensions and welfare.
All this must be accompanied by a commitment to growth. (“What Greece is going through is beyond tough.”) He is unfazed by critics who argue that austerity spells a deflation trap and the single currency is intrinsically flawed. The original design was faulty, he concedes, but a grand bargain can fix it. Indeed, he adds, even if the current 17-member club collapses, the euro will survive because the logic behind its creation is more powerful than ever.

“The rationale for Europe today is not peace; it is power. The rationale for Europe today is that [we are] in a geopolitical landscape that is rapidly changing, in which even a country the size of Germany, let alone France or the UK or Italy, is a fraction of the size of what are going to be the main geopolitical players. We can’t afford to be left on our own. We need the collective strength to advance individual interests.” 
Here speaks the proselytiser-in-chief. So why did Blair not become the first president of the European Union, rather than the self-effacing Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, who composes haikus in his spare time? “I sometimes wish now that when the presidency came up, I would have taken that position – and actually gone out on a more public campaign about what I thought about Europe.”
But surely he wanted the job handed to him on a silver Brussels platter? 

“No, it wasn’t even that. I was concerned as to whether I was going to get locked up in a bureaucracy that was going to be stifling and I did get a little alarmed about what the powers were going to be and what they were not and so on. But no – I would have taken the job. I would have taken it if I had been offered it.”

Blair’s problem was that Angela Merkel of Germany (and other EU leaders) saw Blair as simply too big a personality – and after Iraq too controversial a figure – to occupy the new post. Blair faces the same dilemma as he weighs how to re-enter the British political debate after five years of self-imposed (relative) silence. Friends say he is desperate to play a bigger role, not because he has any ambition to run for high office but because he wants to be part of the argument. “He would really like to be the centre of attention again,” says one long-time ally. Another close friend says: “He feels like an alien in his own country. He feels despised – and that is very difficult for him.”Blair’s problem was that Angela Merkel of Germany (and other EU leaders) saw Blair as simply too big a personality – and after Iraq too controversial a figure – to occupy the new post. 

Blair fits Hillary Clinton’s 1998 description of President Bill Clinton: he is a hard dog to keep on the porch. He is manifestly more charismatic than Ed Miliband, his successor-but-one as Labour party leader; and he can frame an argument. But the centre of political gravity has shifted. Back in 1997, he led a modernised Labour party that left the Thatcher revolution undisturbed. Today, his New Labour reformist mantra grates in Britain but also in Europe after the election of Socialist president François Hollande. Post-crisis leftist parties are now less reformist, more inclined to regulation and more sceptical of business.
Blair responds breezily that Ed Miliband is “asking the right questions” and that it is understandable that Labour is undergoing a period of revisionism after something “as strong and all-encompassing” as New Labour. In the end, people will be forced back to the centre-ground, his so-called Third Way. 

“My point is that there should not be an after the Third Way. It is absolutely right now, slap-bang where the world should be.” And to drive his point home, he singles out emerging economies such as Brazil, Colombia and Rwanda.
One of the perils of modern politics, Blair says, is that we are engaged in “the era of the loud-mouth”. He goes on: “There is an interesting debate – in the west particularly – between the politics of the anger and the politics of the answer.” Naturally, TB places himself in the latter category.

Blair: “Sometimes the way the media talks, you’d think that I’d lost three elections rather than won them…”

Barber: “So what’s your route back?”

Blair: “I don’t know exactly.”

Barber: “But you want it. It’s clearly something that you feel ready [for].”

Blair: “Yes, I feel I’ve got something to say. If people want to listen, that’s great, and if they don’t, that’s their choice … I would want to emphasise how fast the world around us is changing and how incredibly dangerous it is for us to think we can stand still.”
. . .
There is an urgency, even a frustration about Blair. He can see the future so why are so few people listening? He can still pull crowds in the US and in places like Kuwait and Kosovo. Blair still wants to be at the centre of attention. His job as Quartet Representative is a worthy but poor substitute.

Blair with Omar Kittaneh, chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority©Jillian Edelstein
Blair with Omar Kittaneh, chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority
The strike against Blair is that he is too pro-Israel. He stands accused of beautifying a continued expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Blair rejects the criticism, arguing that there will never be a viable Palestinian state unless the Palestinian economy and its institutions develop sufficient strength to make statehood the natural outcome of the negotiating process. But, I protest, there is no negotiating process. The peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are moribund. Ever the optimist, Blair points to the dismantling of barriers to trade, visible improvements in Palestinian standards of living and a shoring up of the Palestinian Authority since he was appointed to the role (on the same day he stepped down as prime minister).

Blair took on his unpaid Quartet role with high hopes that he could be involved directly in the peace talks. But the Americans would not countenance it. Neither his close relationship with President Bush nor with the Clintons could persuade the US to abandon its traditional broker role. Four years on, and after 86 trips to the region, friends say Blair has still not abandoned his dream of forging peace in the Middle East, through the sheer force of his personality. 
“Tony acquired a Messiah complex after the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland,” says a long-time associate. “He brings the same optimism to the Quartet job.”

Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu©Jillian Edelstein
Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu
Blair has a closer relationship with the Israeli leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu than perhaps anyone in the west. Having charmed the pants off Ian Paisley, he perhaps imagines he can repeat the act with Bibi. The question is: who is playing whom? Does Netanyahu see Blair as a useful cover for inaction? Does Blair’s influence with the Israelis ultimately depend on him asking for very little? The best guess is that he knows he has a weak hand and that ultimately the Americans have the most influence over the Israelis. Blair’s thankless task is to act as a bridge between the Palestinians and Israelis in order to keep hopes of a two-state solution alive.

Yet to believe that the Israelis and Palestinians can live together in two contiguous states requires a leap of faith. Blair is nothing if not a man of faith. So I ask him whether he feels contrition for the thousands of people who died during and after the invasion of Iraq. “Of course, I am sorry for the people … but large numbers of people were dying under Saddam. In fact – not that you should ever do this, but if you want to add it up – far more.”
Iraq still rankles. So does the decision to cut short his premiership in favour of handing power to his great collaborator-rival Gordon Brown. Ten years inside Downing Street was plainly not long enough for TB. Does he miss being prime minister? “Some days. Probably because I forget what it was like.” Then he realises his answer sounds phoney. “No, no, it’s the opposite. It is when there are big issues that you want to be there.”

Earlier that Saturday, I accompanied Tony Blair on a tour of the West Bank. We sped along in a presidential-style motorcade, past the Israeli settlements that pepper the landscape. Blair charmed his encircled Palestinian hosts, who treated him with deference. In the Jordan Valley, Bedouin children lined up to have their picture taken with the man denounced in some quarters as a war criminal. Blair barely put a foot wrong. The casual observer might have thought history had stopped: that Tony Blair was in all but name still prime minister.

Blair’s convoy of aides, interpreters and security guards heads to Ramallah©Jillian Edelstein
Blair’s convoy of aides, interpreters and security guards heads to Ramallah
In Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, Blair met Dr Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Central Elections Commission. Dr Nasser was just back from Gaza, where the Islamist Hamas remain in control. Aides brought out a local dessert called collage. Mindful of his figure (he goes to the gym virtually every day of the week, usually in the afternoons), Blair took a couple of mouthfuls and left the rest untouched. The meeting was friendly and businesslike, a useful forum for assessing tensions between the PA and Hamas, and testing the ground for future elections.
The next day, Blair went to the Knesset to see top Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the powerful defence minister. Again, he was treated with visible respect. Silvan Shalom, vice prime minister, told me that Blair’s role was vital in representing the interests of the Palestinians. “The last time my opposite number visited me, he had to resign the next day … Tony Blair is a friend of peace.”

Blair’s unspoken nightmare would be to succumb, Margaret Thatcher-like, to post-power depression. This may explain his multiple roles, his money-making and his slightly manic travel. Yet his most revealing admission is that he would give everything up for a big job.
In another life, says a long-time collaborator, Tony Blair would have been a rock star. And, true to form, he poses for more photographs as the interview draws to a close.
His aides signal time is running short. He has an appointment at 7.30pm. More clicks of the camera. Again an aide interrupts, this time to inform him that he has missed the evening Mass slot crammed into his tight schedule. (He went early the next day.)

A slightly pained expression flickers across Tony Blair’s face. And then he gathers himself for one last pose.

Putin opened the Russian Pilgrims House in Jordan

"I thank His Majesty King Abdullah II for his great support to this project, which is of a paramount importance to thousands of Russian pilgrims," Putin said.

The Russian President added, "I am glad for coming to the holiest place, and I will do all I can to make it easier for our pilgrims to visit this holy site." He said that the Russian interest of this place dates back to the 13th century when Russian pilgrims used to visit holy sites in Jordan and Palestine.

Putin commended Jordan's efforts to preserve such holy places that are cultural heritage of the Kingdom and all Christians across the world.

The President added that Jordan's care of holy places is an evidence of the Jordanian people's respect of all religions. Putin hailed King Abdullah II's role in promoting tolerance among the various religions, referring to the Amman Message, which upholds interfaith dialogue and harmony. Putin also thanked Prince Ghazi for his active role and non-stop support for interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue among the various peoples of the world.

Prince Ghazi praised Russia's freedom of worship after religious rites were banned in the past, adding that there are now more than 100 million Orthodox Christians and 15 million Muslims in Russia who practice their religious rites freely and without fear.

The Prince thanked the Russian leadership and government for their support to this project, stressing that it will help boost Jordan's economy in general and the tourism sector in particular.

Putin toured the site and wrote his name in a visitors book. He decorated Prince Ghazi with a friendship honor. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CBS News: The real root of the Palestinian Christians exodus

Palestinian Christians wearing traditional costumes

With his recent segment for 60 Minutes, CBS News reporterBob Simon has once again stoked the perennial debate over why so many native Palestinian Christians have been leaving the Holy Land in recent decades. Sadly, he addressed this important issue with a very superficial brand of journalism.

The report relied mainly on one local Palestinian cleric – notorious Israel-basher Rev. Mitri Raheb – to single out the “Israeli occupation” as the scapegoat for this Christian flight. There was no need to dig deeper, since Simon knew the report was sure to be a sensation from the moment Israeli ambassador Dr. Michael Oren caught wind of the production and intervened with his bosses at CBS News.

If Bob Simon had truly wanted to know why Arab Christians have been fleeing in droves from Palestinian areas, he should have asked those émigrés now living in Toronto, Sydney and Santiago. Because that is where the majority of Palestinian Christians now reside – in dispersed communities in Canada, Chile, Australia, Germany, the United States and elsewhere.

The disturbing truth is that more than 60 percent of the Arab Christians born in Palestinian areas over the past several generations now live abroad. Yet the same holds true for Lebanese Christians, as a similar 60% of their beleaguered community now live in foreign lands.

Indeed, there has been a widening Christian exodus from all the surrounding Arab countries, with Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christian community collapsing from 1.5 million to as few as 250,000 since the Second Gulf War commenced in 2003. The Coptic Church in Egypt is also losing tens of thousands of parishioners in the wake of the Arab Spring.

So it is indisputable that Arab Christians are fleeing all across the Middle East, and surely the Israeli occupation is not to blame. Rather, this flight has been primarily due to local conflicts and the rise of Islamic militancy, as noted by Ambassador Oren, and the Palestinian Christians are no exception to this trend. The lone exception, in fact, happens to be the State of Israel, the only place in the entire region where the community of Arab Christians is growing and where Arab Christians are afforded their democratic rights.

Still, some Palestinian clerics insist that Muslims and Christians would co-exist in perfect harmony if not for the Jews and their settlements. That, sadly, is a living portrait of a people in denial. How else to explain that Palestinian Christian flight from the Holy Land predates the “occupation” by decades? 

For instance, the last British census in 1948 recorded 29,000 Arab Christians living in Jerusalem, while the first Israeli census in eastern Jerusalem in 1967 found only 11,000. That means two-thirds of the Arab Christian population had fled during the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem.

The real root of the current exodus actually lies in the historic interplay between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East ever since the Islamic conquests began in the seventh century. The region’s Christians and Jews became dhimmis – suppressed minorities living under Muslim dominance. They could keep their faith but had to accept second-class status. To survive, both communities adopted a code of silence which dictated that they never challenge the system or say anything bad about Islam in public.

This system of dhimmitude basically held until modern times. The Crusades may have brought temporary relief for some Christians, but only terror for the Jews.

When Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the dynamic finally began to change. The Great Powers of Europe moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations. Western missionaries also brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions.

With their better education and job skills, Arab Christians became more mobile and many began to migrate to the West to escape the prison of Islam. Thus the modern-day Christian exodus began.

Meanwhile, the Zionist movement arose with a dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty back in their ancient homeland. Israel’s emergence in 1948 challenged the system of Muslim dominance over Christians and Jews, an achievement the Arab world has never truly accepted.

For many Christians in the Middle East, the rebirth of Israel actually stands as a light and model of freedom from Muslim tyranny. But for Palestinian Christians, the conflict that seeks to destroy the Jewish state has been too close for comfort. They are powerless to end it and struggling to survive.

Thus many Palestinian Christian leaders have taken to patriotically waving the flag of Palestinian nationalism higher than even their Muslim neighbors, in the hope such loyalty to the cause will safeguard their flocks. They rail against the Israeli occupation and the settlements as the reason for their dwindling presence. The checkpoints and security barrier may create hardships for them, but they are not the core reason why proud Christian families who have weathered many turbulent centuries here are now pulling up roots.

We must all understand that they are employing an ancient survival mechanism ingrained through centuries of Muslim oppression. Unable to name the real culprit, Palestinian Christians often deflect Muslim anger away from themselves by directing it at the Jews. Meantime, Ambassador Oren is giving voice to the things they cannot say.

*The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.


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