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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WSJ: Can Syria's Christians Survive?

Near the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite commemorates the 5th-century ascetic who became an ancient sensation by living atop a tall pedestal for decades to demonstrate his faith. Krak des Chevaliers, an awe-inspiring castle near Homs, was a fortress for the order of the Knights Hospitaller in their quest to defend a crusader kingdom. Seydnaya, a towering monastery in a town of the same name, was probably built in the time of Justinian. 

The Church of St. Simeon the Stylite commemorates the 5th-century ascetic. Photo: Getty Images.
The Church of St. Simeon the Stylite commemorates the 5th-century ascetic. Photo: Getty Images.

A nun there spoke about Syria's current crisis from within a candlelit alcove this week, surrounded by thousand-year-old votive icons donated by Russian Orthodox churchgoers and silver pendants in the shape of body parts that supplicants have sought to heal—feet, heads, legs, arms, even a pair of lungs and a kidney. 

"It's not a small thing we are facing," she said, speaking as much about the country as her faith. "We just want the killing to stop."
Few places are as central as Syria to the long history of Christianity. Saul of Tarsus made his conversion here, reputedly on the Street Called Straight, which still exists in Damascus. It was in these lands that he conducted his first missions to attract non-Jews to the nascent faith. 

A century ago, the Levant supported a population that was perhaps 20% Christian. Now it is closer to 5%. Syria today hosts vibrant, if dwindling, communities of various ancient sects: Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics and Armenian Orthodox.
But Syria's Christian communities are being severely tested by the uprising that has racked the country for more than a year. They think back to 636, when the Christian Byzantine emperor Heraclius saw his army defeated by Muslim forces south of present-day Damascus. "Peace be with you Syria. What a beautiful land you will be for our enemies," he lamented before fleeing north to Antioch. In the 8th century, a famed Damascus church was razed to make way for the Umayyad Mosque—today one of Islam's holiest sites. 

Not a few Christians in modern-day Syria worry that the current crisis could end the same way for them if Bashar al-Assad and his regime are defeated by the rebel insurgency.
In many ways, it is an odd concern. Christians and Muslims have lived side-by-side with minimal friction during the decades of Assad family rule. Historically, local Christian communities have sometimes even welcomed Muslim overlords when they freed them of heavy-handed rule from Constantinople or Rome. In many places the two groups continue to reach out to each other even now. Even rebel extremists say that they don't have anything against Christians, either. 

Yet as the conflict inside the country takes on ever-stronger sectarian overtones, as Christians largely side with the regime or at least decline to actively oppose it, some of the oldest Christian communities on earth are feeling squeezed.
"We have been leading a life that has been the envy of many," says Isadore Battikha, who until 2010 served as the archbishop of Homs, Hama and Yabroud for the Melkite Greek Catholic church. "But today fear is a reality."
Father Battikha is among the many staunch supporters of President Assad in the Christian church hierarchy.
From the very start of the current conflict, history and religion have played a key role in fueling passions on both sides in Syria. And this has become more pronounced as the conflict dragged on, turning bloodier and more vicious. 

One of the oft-repeated assertions made by the Syrian regime plays effectively on ancient rivalries. The conflict, it says, is an attempt by neo-Ottomans in Turkey and expansion-minded Muslim ultraconservatives from Saudi Arabia—known as Wahhabis—to gain a foothold in Syria.
This narrative, one of majority Sunni Muslims overwhelming and dominating minorities, is now a staple of nightly news bulletins on Syrian state television. The regime knows well how this message resonates with Christians and other minorities.
The Ottomans, Turks who ruled Syria from 1516 until World War I, relegated Christians to a second-class citizen status. They were allowed to practice their religion and govern themselves in matters that didn't concern the Muslims. But they were also required to pay special taxes, and there were plenty of restrictions on them when it came to interactions with Muslims. Wahhabism, the ascetic and harshly conservative form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, is even tougher on Christians. 

Rebels have made it easy for the regime to play on fears such as these. In an effort to inspire their own fighters and curry favor with foreign backers—primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the only other country where Wahhabism is the state religion—some frame the conflict as a struggle to restore the glories of the Islamic caliphates and redeem Syria from the rule of the infidels.
This clearly comes through in the names adopted for the brigades of the Free Syrian Army—the loosely linked grouping of local militias and army defectors. Many of the militias are named after figures revered by Sunni Muslims like the third Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, whose main title was al-Farouq, meaning "distinguisher between truth and falsehood," and the Islamic warrior and military commander Khalid ibn al-Walid. 

It was Ibn al-Walid, fighting for the Caliph Umar, that defeated Emperor Heraclius in 636 during the first wave of Muslim conquest to come from the Arabian Peninsula in the years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
The main target of the most sectarian-minded rebels isn't Christians. It is the Alawites, the minority group to which the Assad family belongs. Alawites, who make up about 12% of Syria's population, about the same as Christians, are a heterodox sect that branched off from Islam. They are considered by Muslim extremists to be heretical, far worse than Christians. 

Nonetheless, many Christians fear any government that replaces the Assad regime might be dominated by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that could relegate them back to second-class status. They also worry their communities could be devastated in the crossfire between Syria's largely Sunni Muslim insurgency and the well-armed Alawite regime, just as Christians in neighboring Iraq have suffered mightily in the sectarian wars there over the past decade.
The expansion of the conflict to Syria's two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, has amplified the fears of the Christians. They are under pressure from both the regime and rebels to take sides and make their allegiances known. Those who want to avoid taking sides are leaving. 

For the time being many Christians, like Muslims and other refugees, have relocated to areas where they feel safer within Syria or in neighboring Lebanon. So far, the pattern in neighboring Iraq—where many Christians have left for good to Western countries—hasn't emerged.
The clearest examples of Christians taking the side of the regime have been in Homs. In the town of Qusayr, southwest of Homs, one Christian family helped aid the security forces by taking up arms and manning checkpoints. The result was a backlash against all Christians there, and the town has largely emptied of Christians since then. 

In Wadi al-Nasara—the Valley of Christians, another enclave of some 30 villages west of the city of Homs—a family of pro-regime Christians has fought alongside Alawite loyalists, say residents who recently fled the area. Pro-regime Christians commandeered two palaces in the scenic valley that are owned by Gulf Arab diplomats, they said.
Nearby, Sunni fighters have made a base in the landmark 12th-century Crusader-era castle Krak des Chevaliers. "It is now impossible for a Muslim to come down to the valley," said a resident of the area.
Father Paulo Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who lived in Syria for three decades but was expelled by the regime in June, says many members of the church have long-standing ties with the regime and intelligence services that have shaped their stance. 

A general view of the Christian Syrian village of Maalula, 60 kms north of Damascus. Maalula is one of the last corners in the world where its residents still speak Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus Christ. Photo: Getty Images.
A general view of the Christian Syrian village of Maalula, 60 kms north of Damascus. Maalula is one of the last corners in the world where its residents still speak Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus Christ. Photo: Getty Images.

"Many Christians in Syria believe that there's no alternative to the Bashar Assad regime," says Father Dall'Oglio.
Some Christians, though, are striving to bridge that divide, attempting to reach out to the opposition and rebels, or at least cross the sectarian gulf that increasingly separates them.
Basilios Nassar, a Greek Orthodox priest from the central city of Hama, was shot and killed by government snipers in January while he was helping evacuate the wounded in clashes in one neighborhood, Christian activists say. 

They say the snipers probably mistook him for an Islamist fighter because of his beard and black robes. His church said he was killed by "an armed terrorist group."
Caroline, a Christian activist who asked to be identified by only her first name, was arrested by security forces in April in Damascus while distributing chocolate Easter eggs to the children of Christian, Sunni and Alawite families displaced by the fighting in Homs.
Paper strips bearing passages from the Quran and the Bible were attached to the eggs. Caroline said this act was part of her attempts to chip away at the barriers now separating Syria's religious groups because of the conflict. 

Previously she made it a point to assist the wives and children of men killed in fighting in the predominantly Sunni town of Douma outside Damascus, handing out food provisions and cash envelopes.
She had also sought meetings with church leaders to ask them "not to impose one position on all Christians." She said the majority either scolded her for being against the regime or refused to meet with her.
Father Nawras Sammour, a 44-year-old Jesuit from Aleppo, runs a nationwide relief program known as Jesuit Refugee Services. The group is currently providing assistance to 6,000 Syrian families across the country who are displaced by the violence—Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druze, Alawite as well as Christian. 

He believes only by reaching out across religious divides will Christians continue to be a vibrant presence in these ancient lands. He recognizes the challenges, and says he understands Christian concerns.
"Look at Iraq, look at Egypt," he says, listing neighboring countries where political upheaval and the replacement of an authoritarian ruler with an Islamist resurgence has pummeled long-standing Christian communities. "But despite this we have to build bridges. These are the principles of the gospel. We can't just pick a side and go with them." 

Alexander Haddad, a 66-year-old resident of the mountain hamlet of Maalula, is concerned about the fate of his ancient Christian community, but he takes the long view. Like other residents of the town, he speaks a variant of Aramaic, the language used by Jesus himself.
"A lot of people have passed through this country—the Byzantines, the Muslims, Tamerlane, the Mongols, the Ottomans," said Mr. Haddad, seated in the shadow of the convent of St. Thekla, the feminine hero of the biblical legend, the Acts of Paul and Thekla. 

"Jesus was from just to the south. St. Paul came to Maalula," he says. "Christianity is very strong here." 

VIDEO: Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean ) calls for repeal of British hate speech law

LONDON,  – Rowan Atkinson, one of Britain’s most popular film and television comedy stars, has told the government that the hate speech provisions of the Public Order Act must be repealed to uphold the country’s ancient traditions of freedom of speech.

He said he wanted to counter “the Outrage Industry: self-appointed arbiters of the public good, encouraging media-stoked outrage, to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react.”

A “new intolerance” is being fed by Section 5, the “insult” wording of the Act, he said. “A new and intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.”

“‘I’m not intolerant,’ say many softly-spoken, highly educated liberal-minded people,” Atkinson said. “‘I’m only intolerant of intolerance.’ And people tend to nod sagely and say, ‘Oh yes, wise words, wise words.’ And yet if you think about this supposedly inarguable statement for longer than five seconds you realize that all it is advocating is the replacement of one kind of intolerance with another.”

The law, he said, is “indicative of a culture that has taken hold of the program of successive governments that with the reasonable and well-intentioned ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society, has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature.”

Known mainly to North American for his television and film roles as Blackadder and Mr. Bean, Atkinson is also popular in Britain as a sketch and stand up comedian on stage. In the course of his long career he has parodied the Germans, the French, Spaniards, actors, opera singers, ballet dancers, mimes, rock musicians and pop divas. He has not spared British institutions like Shakespeare, Oxford University, the Royal Family, the military and the police, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, Catholicism, Anglicanism, and the New Atheists.

Speaking at a meeting at Westminster of the campaign group Reform Section 5, Atkinson placed the freedom to offend people as second only to the right to the means of “sustaining life itself.”
He had, he said, enjoyed freedom of speech throughout his professional life, and had no concerns that he would be arrested for insulting someone. His concern, he said is “more for those more vulnerable because of their lower profile.”

Under the law’s current wording, anything could be interpreted subjectively as “insult,” he said. Criticism, ridicule, and sarcasm, any unfavorable comparison, or “merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy can be interpreted as insult.”

He cited “ludicrous” cases of abuse as a student in Oxford arrested for calling a police horse “gay”; a Christian café owner threatened with arrest for displaying Bible passages on a television screen in his business; and a teenager arrested for holding a placard calling the Church of Scientology a “dangerous cult.”

British humor is self-deprecating and outrageous, often rude, and frequently revolves around mocking the stupidity, shortsightedness and banality that plagues humanity in every walk of life. Without the freedom to insult both individuals and groups, including homosexuals, Atkinson has warned, those great traditions of freedom of mockery will die out and give way to a “culture of censoriousness.”

In Britain, “harassment,” or causing someone “alarm or distress,” is a statutory offense, but the many critics of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 have warned that it is a law designed to be abused, with the determination of the offense resting on the subjective feelings of the putative victim.

The key, they say, is in the wording: “A person is guilty of an offense if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, or disorderly behavior, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”

Atkinson could also have mentioned that Section 5 charges are increasingly being levied by police against conservative Christians who object either to the homosexual lifestyle or to the government’s plans to institute “gay marriage.” Christian groups have complained that it is being used specifically to suppress any public opposition to the sexual zeitgeist, particularly the homosexualist movement. Several Christian street preachers have been arrested for citing Biblical passages condemning homosexual activity.

One of them is Adrian Smith, a Christian who recently tweeted, “If the State wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex, that is up to the State: but the State mustn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.” Although his position is held, according to polls, by about 80 percent of the British population, Mr. Smith was arrested and charged under Section 5 after his co-workers at the Trafford Housing Trust testified the message was “blatantly homophobic.” Mr. Smith’s salary was docked by 40 percent for “gross misconduct in publishing views which might be taken as Trafford Trust policy.”

Maureen Messent, a columnist for the Birmingham Mail, said that she laid the blame for this rash of “mean-hearted sniping” at the feet of the homosexual lobby, who have “become suppressors of others’ free speech.”

“They believe they alone must be heard,” she commented.

The campaign to reform Section 5 is drawing a surprisingly broad array of supporters, including the conservative Christian Institute, their usually diametrically opposed National Secular Society; the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch and The Freedom Association. The campaign also claims 60 supporters in the Commons and the House of Lords including UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Speaking at the meeting with Rowan Atkinson, senior Conservative Party MP David Davis, said, “The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended. For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right.”

Spectator columnist Rod Liddle wrote last weekend that the push to remove “insult” from the Public Order Act has nearly universal support.

He said the main purpose of the law at present is “to criminalize people who express inconvenient political views.”

“Christians have been arrested merely for reading extracts from the Bible, for example. Gays have been arrested for suggesting that Islam is a bit silly on the subject of homosexuality. One old bloke was warned he would be prosecuted because he put a sign up in his window stating that religion was ‘fairy tales for grown-ups,’” he wrote. “If it is even remotely possible that someone might be offended, the Old Bill steps in.”

Even some leading figures in the homosexualist movement say the law goes too far. Peter Tatchell, the head of the radical homosexual group OutRage!, said in May this year that there should be no law against insulting people in a democratic country.

Tatchell told the BBC, “What constitutes insults is a very subjective judgment. It’s been used in very different ways.”

“We may disagree on some those views but I don’t think they should be criminalized in a free and democratic society,” he said. “We should have the right to speak our minds and I think putting up with insults is one of the prices we pay for that freedom.”

Orthodox witness and action - Russian priest saves 2,000 babies from abortion

Fr. Alexis Tarasov helps Russia's women find a better path i 

VOLGOGRAD, Russia,  - An Orthodox priest in the Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) region of Russia has been commended by the Russian Ministry of Health for his work in reducing the number of abortions in his district. His personal efforts in counseling and helping women to keep their babies has reduced the abortion rate in the Volgograd region by 25 percent over the past five years.

Father Alexis Tarasov began his life saving work in his own parish in the town of Voljsk, where he said he spent hours talking with women who were considering abortion. He expanded his pro-life work with visits to the local hospital. Then, he and other like-minded priests, established a crisis pregnancy center.

With the support of his diocese, he approached the local authorities for help to expand the project.
“The program was approved in 2002 by the administration of Voljsk,” said Father Alexis. “Then the idea developed to create a regional center, with the support of the administration of Volgograd.”
The result was the creation of the Center for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, under the supervision the Archangel Raphael Orthodox Medical Society.

According to the Department of Health, more than 2,000 Volgograd women have chosen to abandon their original intention to have an abortion since that time.
Father Alexis explained that the focus of his project is simple: to provide women with trained and sympathetic listeners who will hear their concerns, give them full information on the abortion procedure and its potential effects on their own health and well-being, and offer them the material help they need.

“Quite often, the only thing needed to dissuade a mother from this terrible decision is simply to talk to someone with an open heart,” Father Alexis said.

(Click “like” if you want to end abortion! )

Natalia Ermishkina, 31, is one of the women that Father Alexis dissuaded from abortion. The young mother said she had lost her room in subsidized housing after being abandoned by the man who promised to marry her and raise their child. Out of desperation, Natalia decided to get rid of the child.
“The psychologist in prenatal listened to me and advised me to speak to Father Alexis,” said Natalia. “I went to him and I do not regret it. I gave birth to Alexandra, and the Center helped me with housing and clothes for the child. I have a daughter, and now begin to believe in and look forward to a better life.”

“Today, all women seeking abortions are sent by gynecologists for consultation with the psychologist working at each prenatal hospital,” said Nikolai Zarkin, head physician of Volgograd’s Central Maternity Hospital № 2.
Zarkin said after these consultations, 20 percent of women refuse abortion and give birth to their children.
Father Alexis has organized help for mothers after their children are born by providing legal aid as well as clothing at the Center for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, and looks forward to providing more housing.

“Wherever possible, we strive to help women in need. There is now an acute need for the establishment of more homes for moms who need housing. It is essential to build homes and equip them so that women can live with their children until their housing problem is resolved,” said Father Alexis. “But it is difficult without help from the authorities and, without benefactors, we can not do it.”
Pravoslavie News reports that Father Alexis has been given an award by the World Congress of Families for his many years of pro-life work.

Russia: Many Muslims were baptized after the death of Fr. Daniel Sisoyev

The reason for the murder of the Fr. Daniel Sysoev was the success of his mission among the Muslims, says his friend the famous missionary Father Oleg Stenyaev

"A man gets killed when he is feared, when his spiritual superiority is feared. Father Daniel was threatened 14 times. And even on the day of his murder, he received a threatening call demanding that he must stop preaching among the Muslims. After his assassination many Muslims were baptized, as priests of other Churches have told me. The murder produced the opposite effect," says Father Oleg in an article published by the Orthodox newspaper Krestovsky bridge.

According to Stenayev, "When the warlord Said Buryatsky sentenced Father Daniel to death two ‘charges’ were announced—that Father Daniel conducted open debates with Muslims, and that he had them baptized.
"But the Muslims themselves initiated the debates. And the fact that they were coming to him to be baptized shows that something is lacking in Islam, that's why they came," said the author.
The priest emphasized that Father Daniel’s mission never had an aggressive nature, and the videos of those debates are proof of this.
"Unfortunately, the intermissions were not filmed. During the debates there were periods when everyone in the lobby started talking to each other. Many Muslims gathered around Father Daniel and asked him questions which he answered very amicably. He had no animosity towards people of other confessions and he spoke about it in his lectures: "I love these people but I do not share their faith and their beliefs," says the article.
Father Oleg considers his friend to be a saint.
"Saints are difficult people, they always have an inspirational impulse, and they are ahead of others in ideas, words, and actions. It looked as if he was in a hurry. But actually it was us who were behind. Father Daniel was not in a rush, he was a measured person. But he set the pace and the tension and it wouldn’t let one rest idly," he wrote.
On November 19, 2009 Father Daniel was shot in the Church of St. Thomas, where he was the rector. Soon after, on December 1, 2005, a suspect in the murder, a Kyrgyz citizen, was killed in Makhachkala during his arrest.


VIDEO: ConEd Explosion Takes Out Power on Manahattan Island - Hurricane Sandy 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

PHOTOS AND VIDEO LIVE Hurricane Sandy - The Weather Channel

Monday morning, Hurricane Sandy is only strengthening, with its central pressure dipping below 940 mb, based on an extrapolation!

The highest storm surge is expected along Long Island Sound and New York Harbor with high tide this evening.  
In some of these areas, peak tide levels may top those from both Hurricane Irene by 2 feet! 



Brooklyn, Monday, October 29, 2012.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 

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Finnish Orthodox clerics stand up for woman deprived of her kids

Interior of Uspenski Cathedral, the main Finnish orthodox church.
Helsinki, - The Orthodox parish in Helsinki whose members include Anastasia Zavgorodnyaya is planning to appeal social services' move to take the Russian woman's four children into their custody.

'Until now we have often contacted the mom, and we are sure that there is no danger for the children in the family,' Deacon Juha Lampinen told the largest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, in an interview, a transcript of which appeared in Tuesday's issue of the daily.

'Taking a newborn baby who is five days old from their mother in the course of a special police operation is something that makes you think of a novel by Franz Kafka,' well-known Finnish Orthodox Priest Heikki Huttunen told the paper. 'Finnish authorities discriminate against Russian mothers.'

At the same time, the head of the social services of Vantaa, the city where Zavgorodnyaya lives, brushed aside accusations of Russophobia. 'We have the best law on the protection of children in the world,' Anna Cantell-Forsblom said. However, she said she knew nothing about the Zavgorodnyaya affair.
Zavgorodnyaya reportedly had her children taken away from her after her six-year-old daughter said at school that her father had given her a slap on the behind.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our Lady of the Wind ( icon )

Our Lady of the Wind
Patron of the Church of Our Lady of the Wind, Enfeh al-Koura

The nuns of Our Lady of Kaftoun painted this icon in December 2001, at the request of the parish of Enfeh, Lebabon and after having shown preliminary designs to fathers and theologians who gave their blessing. It is an offering from Michel Faiz Touma, for his parents the reposed Faiz and Nejmeh. It measures 90cm by 60cm and it was consecrated by Fr. Zakhour Nimeh, the parish priest of blessed memory. The feast of Our Lady of the Wind is the Feast of the Annunciation, where it takes the place of the icon of the Annunciation, and below it most of the image is the sea and fish (the Feast of the Annunciation is connected to permission to eat fish despite the fast).

An explanation of the icon “O Virgin, calm the tumult of our passions and quiet the storm of our sins…” (from the Paraklisis to the Theotokos).

This is the message of the icon of the Theotokos, Our Lady of the Wind and what is written underneath it. She is lifting up the prayers of the faithful who are drowning in the sea of sorrows and the tempest of temptations to the Lord Jesus who is always present and watching from heaven, which is represented by the sky-blue circles amidst the golden background. He blesses with both His hands in response to the intercession of His mother the sailors who struggle amidst the waves that toss about the fishing boat (and the boat is a symbol of the Church). He leads them to the shore, the place “below the wind” north of Ras Qal’at Enfeh where the church of Our Lady stands. 

They seek refuge under her serene protection, far from the storms and whirlwinds coming from the sea (a symbol of death and the world of darkness where the dragon plays (the psalm of vespers). The whirlpool which appears along our coasts in the winter is still called “the dragon” by local fishermen and this is reflected in the icon by depicting the storm in this form), from the southwest across from the cliff, but the Theotokos Our Lady of the Wind is standing next to her church, lifting up her left hand in supplication to her divine Son to preserve her children, while with her right hand she repels from them the storm coming from afar.

The icon goes from nature to the site of the church of Our Lady where the bay “below the wind”, which during most of the days of the year is protected from the southwesterly winds which cause storms and batter the cliff. The icon goes from the calm bay which forms a natural harbor for fishermen to the spiritual reality where Our Lady takes those who seek her intercession under her protection.

In the details, the waves appear as a spiral of the colors of the sea and the sky, and this is in imitation of the style of the extant mural icons in the church of Our Lady of the Wind, which probably go back to the twelfth century. They reflect the ambiance of the local sea and among them are fish, so often mentioned in the tradition of the Church.

Likewise palm trees, which decorate the coastline since Phoenician times, are mystically connected to the Virgin (in the Song of Songs and the Akathist) surround the church.
She is the Virgin Lady, the Theotokos who is honored by the faithful in the village and the surrounding region. And here are the ancient churches forming a ring around her church: from the right St. Simeon, St. Michael, and St. Katrina and from the left St. George and the Monastery of St. John the Baptist. 
Likewise she is surrounded by her monasteries: Deir al-Nouriyyeh drawn at the top of the cliff in the background along with the site of the ancient monastery in the middle of the mountain where Abd al-Masih al-Enfawi practiced asceticism and from which the light of the Virgin shined forth, according to the tradition of the monastery’s name. 

At the end of the peak is the church of St. Simeon the Stylite. As for the monasteries and shrines to Our Lady in the region for which there was not room to draw in the icon, they are present in a hidden way, and to complete the list they are: 
Our Lady of the Seas in Batroun, the Horshiyyeh Cave in Hamat, the shrine of al-Rihaniyyeh in Hari, al-Za’tariyyeh in Shaka, al-Zurou’ in Kfarhazim, Sayyidat Fi’, Our Lady of the Spring (al-Na’oura), Sayyidat al-Bazizat (the Nursing), Sayyidat al-Qutrubiyyeh in Enfeh, Sayyidat al-Khazaib in al-Harisha, the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, and Deir Sayyidat Natour, where the perspective of one looking at the icon stands.

She is the Virgin who herself saves through her intercessions all those sailing through the storms and waves on the sea of life.
She is the Lady of all places—land, sea, and air and is constantly present and protecting all who honor her. Through her intercessions, O Lord, have mercy on us and save us, amen.


Hurricane Sandy - Saturday: STATE OF EMERGENCY ( photos )

 havaji evakuacija

Powerful 7.7 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Pacific Coast Of British Columbia, Strongest Since 1949



52.769°N 131.927°W depth=17.5km (10.9mi)

Nearby Cities

139km (86mi) S of Masset, Canada
202km (126mi) SSW of Prince Rupert, Canada
293km (182mi) SW of Terrace, Canada 
                   556km (345mi) NW of Campbell River, Canada                                
635km (395mi) SSE of Juneau, Alaska

According to the USGS, a powerful 7.7 magnitude earthquake just struck the Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada, at a depth of only 10.9 miles (17.5 km), the strongest earthquake to hit the region since the 8.1 magnitude quake that struck the Queen Charlotte Fault on August 22, 1949.  Shallow earthquakes tend to be larger, and therefore more damaging, earthquakes. 

There are reports coming out of Vancouver that people living in high-rise apartments felt their building sway. Fortunately, the epicentre is located in the sparsely populated region of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), though a tsunami warning has been issued for coastal areas along British Columbia and Alaska from the northern tip of Vancouver Island. 



Samson and Delilah - watch full movie for FREE ( great movie )


The following are key excerpts from the address, specifically related to the coming of the Twelfth Imam:

Mr. President, Friends and Dear Colleagues,

Creating peace and lasting security with decent life for all, although a  great and a historic mission can be accomplished. The Almighty God has not left  us alone in this mission and has said that it will surely happen. If it doesn’t,  then it will be contradictory to his wisdom.

– God Almighty has promised us a man of kindness, a man who loves people and  loves absolute justice, a man who is a perfect human being and is named Imam  A1-Mahdi, a man who will come in the company of Jesus Christ  (PBUH) and  the righteous. By using the inherent potential of all the worthy men and women  of all nations and I repeat, the inherent potential of “all the worthy men and  women of all nations” he will lead humanity into achieving its glorious and  eternal ideals.

– The arrival of the Ultimate Savior will mark a new beginning, a rebirth and  a resurrection. It will be the beginning of peace, lasting security and genuine  life.

– His arrival will be the end of oppression, immorality, poverty,  discrimination and the beginning of justice, love and empathy.

– He will come and he will cut through ignorance, superstition, prejudice by opening the gates of science and knowledge. He will establish a world brimful of  prudence and he will prepare the ground for the collective, active and  constructive participation of all in the global management.

– He will come to grant kindness, hope, freedom and dignity to all humanity as a girl.

– He will come so mankind will taste the pleasure of being human and being in  the company of other humans.

– He will come so that hands will be joined, hearts will be filled with love  and thoughts will be purified to be at service of security, welfare and  happiness for all.

– He will come to return all children of Adam irrespective of their skin  colors to their innate origin after a long history of separation and division  linking them to eternal happiness.

– The arrival of the Ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ and the Righteous will  bring about an eternally bright future for mankind, not by force or waging wars  but through thought awakening and developing kindness in everyone. Their arrival  will breathe a new life in the cold and frozen body of the world. He will bless  humanity with a spring that puts an end to our winter of ignorance, poverty and  war with the tidings of a season of blooming.

– Now we can sense the sweet scent and the soulful breeze of the spring, a  spring that has just begun and doesn’t belong to a specific race, ethnicity,  nation or a region, a spring that will soon reach all the territories in Asia,  Europe, Africa and the US.

– He will be the spring of all the justice-seekers, freedom-lovers and the  followers of heavenly prophets. He will be the spring of humanity and the  greenery of all ages.

– Let us join hands and clear the way for his eventual arrival with empathy  and cooperation, in harmony and unity. Let us march on this path to salvation  for the thirsty souls of humanity to taste immortal joy and grace.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Video: Spooked Forecasters Warn Hurricane Sandy Could Become The Perfect ‘Super-Monster-Frankenstorm’ Of The Century

With a name like "Frankenstorm," this could get ugly.
Hurricane Sandy, moving north from the Caribbean, was expected to make landfall Monday night near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm that could bring nearly a foot of rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow.
Experts said the storm would be wider and stronger than last year's Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.

Officials did not mince words, telling people to be prepared for several days without electricity. Jersey Shore beach towns began issuing voluntary evacuations and protecting boardwalks
Atlantic Beach casinos made contingency plans to close, and officials advised residents of flood-prone areas to stay with family or be ready to leave. Airlines said to expect cancellations and waived change fees for passengers who want to reschedule.

"Be forewarned," said Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. "Assume that you will be in the midst of flooding conditions, the likes of which you may not have seen at any of the major storms that have occurred over the last 30 years."

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency Friday morning to help mobilize emergency response. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that wherever the storm comes ashore, there will be 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges. Up to 2 feet of snow should fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The storm threatened to hit two weeks before Election Day, while several states were heavily involved in campaigning, canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden both canceled weekend campaign events in coastal Virginia Beach, Va., though their events in other parts of the states were going on as planned.
In Rhode Island, politicians asked supporters to take down yard signs for fear they might turn into projectiles in the storm.

With a rare mix of three big merging weather systems over a densely populated region, experts predict at least $1 billion in damage.
And if they meet Tuesday morning around New York or New Jersey, as forecasters predict, they could create a big, wet mess that settles over the nation's most heavily populated corridor and reaches as far west as Ohio.

Airlines are giving travelers a way out if they want to scrap their plans due to Hurricane Sandy.
All the major airlines are offering waivers to customers who wish to reschedule their flights without incurring the typical fee of up to $150. The offers cover passengers flying in or out of just about any airport from Latin America to New Hampshire. Most waivers for travel in the Northeast are only valid Monday through Wednesday.

The airlines have only canceled a handful of flights so far, nearly all of them in and out of Florida and the Caribbean.
They say there will be hundreds of miles of steady, strong and damaging winds and rain for the entire Eastern region for several days. That could produce a bigger wallop than last year's damaging Irene, which caused the cancellation of nearly 14,000 flights in a four-day period.

Those hoping to fly in or out of affected areas are asked to check their flight status before heading to the airport. Airlines also promise to update their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds with the latest information. To cancel, passengers should call the airline directly. Some airlines also allow changes to be made on their websites.

Passengers can expect cancellations to increase as the storm moves north over the weekend.
"Airlines and other operators generally stop flying to airports in the potential storm path long before winds reach dangerous levels," the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.
Utilities are lining up out-of-state work crews and canceling employees' days off to deal with expected power outages. From county disaster chiefs to the federal government, emergency officials are warning the public to be prepared. And President Barack Obama was briefed aboard Air Force One.

"It's looking like a very serious storm that could be historic," said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground. "Mother Nature is not saying, `Trick or treat.' It's just going to give tricks."

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster Jim Cisco, who coined the nickname Frankenstorm, said: "We don't have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting."
Government forecasters said there is a 90 percent chance -- up from 60 percent two days earlier -- that the East will get pounded.

Coastal areas from Florida to Maine will feel some effects, but the storm is expected to vent the worst of its fury on New Jersey and the New York City area, which could see around 5 inches of rain and gale-force winds close to 40 mph. Eastern Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania and western Virginia could get snow.

And the storm will take its time leaving. The weather may not start clearing in the mid-Atlantic until the day after Halloween and Nov. 2 in the upper Northeast, Cisco said.
"It's almost a weeklong, five-day, six-day event," he said from a NOAA forecast center in College Park, Md. "It's going to be a widespread, serious storm."

It is likely to hit during a full moon, when tides are near their highest, increasing the risk of coastal flooding. And because many trees still have their leaves, they are more likely to topple in the event of wind and snow, meaning there could be widespread power outages lasting to Election Day.
Eastern states that saw outages that lasted for days after last year's freak Halloween snowstorm and Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 are already pressuring power companies to be more ready this time.

Asked if he expected utilities to be more prepared, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick responded: "They'd better be."
Jersey Central Power & Light, which was criticized for its response to Irene, notified employees to be ready for extended shifts. In Pennsylvania, PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said, "We're in a much better place this year."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday said the city was striking a tone of calm preparedness.
"What we are doing is we are taking the kind of precautions you should expect us to do, and I don't think anyone should panic," Bloomberg said. The city has opened an emergency situation room and activated its coastal storm plan.

Some have compared the tempest to the so-called Perfect Storm that struck off the coast of New England in 1991, but that one hit a less populated area. Nor is this one like last year's Halloween storm, which was merely an early snowfall.
"The Perfect Storm only did $200 million of damage and I'm thinking a billion" this time, Masters said. "Yeah, it will be worse."

As it spun away from the Bahamas late Friday, Sandy was blamed for more than 43 deaths across the Caribbean. The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season hit the Bahamas after cutting across Cuba, where it tore roofs off homes and damaged fragile coffee and tomato crops. It is expected to move north, just off the Eastern Seaboard.

Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin, was helping his son clean up early Thursday after an enormous tree toppled in his garden.
"The hurricane really hit us hard," he said. "As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Church of Cyprus Help Syrian Refugees in Jordan

The Zaatari camp

On Thursday, October 18 the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos was present and the reception of parcels of food, medicine, and clothing sent by the Church of Cyprus for Syrian refugees in Jordan staying at the Zaatari camp. The patriarch had intervened for these refugees, some time ago, with the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Cyprus in Amman. The patriarch then visited the camp and gathered information about the refugees' difficulties. They were at the center of recent discussions between the primates of the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem and the Church of Cyprus and representatives of the European Union in Brussels. The Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos additionally called on the Archbishop of Cyprus to organize a collection of funds for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The Orthodox people of Cyprus as well as their government responded to this call: 10 tons of mineral water, 5 tons of food, and 185 cases of clothing, as well as 15 small refrigerators and 5 computers arrived in Akaba by sea and were then shipped to Zaatari on October 18 in the presence of Patriarch Theophilos and several Jordanian clergy, the ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus, and other Jordanian figures.

Zaatari camp is the first official tent camp in Jordan.

The Zaatari camp currently shelters 38,500 out of a total of 210,000 in Jordan. Between 300 and 400 refugees arrive in the camp daily, according to the security conditions on the Syrian-Jordanian border. They arrive at the camp, most often at night, and have nothing with them except their clothes. They are exhausted and often wounded. The first step upon their arrival is to provide them with food and clothing. Great effort is taken to improve the conditions of their stay, as winter is approaching. New roads are being built and covered with gravel in order to protect the camp from dust, which is detrimental to the health of its inhabitants.

75% of the refugees are women and children. A program has been started for the education of between 15,000 and 18,000 children. Schools have been established in tents.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos thanked the representatives of the Jordanian Government, the UNHCR, and UNICEF for the information they transmitted and especially for the humanitarian work that has been accomplished. He declared that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Church of Cyprus propose to continue actively helping this work through the collaboration of those responsible for the camp and the head of the patriarch's office in Amman, Waffa Ksous.

The leader of al-Qaida Ayman Al-Zawahri Calls Muslims to kidnap Westerners


Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri has called on Muslims to kidnap Westerners, join Syria's rebellion and ensure Egypt implements Sharia law, SITE Monitoring reported, citing a two-part film posted on Islamist websites. 

"We are seeking, by the help of Allah, to capture others and to incite Muslims to capture the citizens of the countries that are fighting Muslims in order to release our captives," he said, praising the kidnapping of Warren Weinstein, a 71-year-old American aid worker in Pakistan last year.
However, in a sign that al-Qaida could be under pressure, he said the release of the film had been delayed because of the "conditions of the fierce war." 

Zawahri accused the international community of giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a licence to kill" in his attempts to smother a popular uprising. Syria's anti-government rebels include Islamist groups.
"I incite Muslims everywhere, especially in the countries that are contiguous to Syria, to rise to support their brothers in Syria with all what they can and not to spare anything that they can offer," he added. 

The Egypt-born cleric directed questions towards the new Egyptian President, Mohammed al-Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, over his intentions towards Israel, Egyptian Christians and sharia law.

"The battle in Egypt is very clear. It is a battle between the secular minority that is allied with the church and that is leaning on the support of the army, who are made by (former president Hosni) Mubarak and the Americans... and the Muslim ummah in Egypt that is seeking to implement the sharia," he said.   

He also used the two-hour, 12-minute address, posted on Islamist websites on Wednesday, to call U.S. President Barack Obama a "liar" and "one of the biggest supporters of Israel."    

One of the FBI's most wanted terrorists, al-Zawahiri has played a defining role in al Qaeda. He is believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan's tribal region that borders Afghanistan.

He was indicted in absentia for his alleged role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others, according to the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the U.S. federal government.

The FBI is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture, the same amount as the reward for bin Laden.

Al-Zawahiri's wife and three children were killed in December 2001 in a U.S. attack on the family's residence in Afghanistan.

Bishop Elias Kfoury on the Martyrdom of Fr Fadi Haddad

To understand this, it's important to remember that 'Fadi' in Arabic means 'redeemer' and that Fr Fadi was killed attempting to redeem a captive.

fr Fadi was found killed in Qattana, near Damascus

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

To my dear Priest Fadi Haddad,

I received with great sorrow (even though the Apostle Paul tells us, "do not grieve like others who have no hope") the news of your horrific murder on the road to Mount Hermel. This news hit me like a thunderbolt, I who gave you the mystery of priesthood by the laying on of this humble hand. I  am the one who recognized that you were "one of the poor of the Holy Spirit" who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. I recognized in you the loving son, loyal to his Church and his leaders. I saw innocence in your eyes, purity in your soul, and love in your heart, putting into action the words of Christ the Lord, "With love I have conquered the world"-- and not with any other weapon.

My soul is sorrowful unto death, because innocence is killed by murderous, criminal hands who do not know the sanctity of priesthood or of holy things. My soul is sorrowful unto death, because love is persecuted, love which the Apostle Paul said, "gives everything. Love never fails." The honor of the priesthood is trampled by barbaric feet (even the barbarity of the Zionist Israelis has not done this). I say to the murderous criminals who overcame you: Wait for the Day of Judgment when the Righteous Judge shall sit upon the throne. The river of fire will flow and the book will be opened. The hidden things will be revealed. On that day God Almighty shall ask each of us: What have you done? Cain, Cain, where is your brother?

I say to the friends and loved ones of the Priest Fadi what Christ the Lord said to His loved ones: "Do not fear the one who kills the body, but rather fear the One who can place you in the hell of fire. That is, God." To the murderous criminals, I say: We will not take revenge. We have left that to God, the God who rules heaven and earth and who repays each of us according to his deeds.

The one who kills the body, what can he do after that? Is he able to kill the soul? Of course not. Is he able to kill faith? Of course not. Is he able to kill dignity? Of course not. Then what is he able to do? I say to you, what is he able to do? He dies in his rage. He dies in his hatred, in the mire of sin which chokes him and puts an end to him. 
Every person without hope has a fate like that of Judas Iscariot, who went and hanged himself because he despaired of God's mercy, while we the faithful live according to the hope of resurrection and eternal life. You, my dear Priest Fadi are transported according to the hope of resurrection and eternal life. We do not obtain our life from ourselves or from the world. Rather, we obtain our life from God, "from whom is every good gift and every perfect gift," according to the Apostle Paul.

But you, O Priest Fadi, have honor, because you accomplished what you were trying to do, saving the life of one of your flock which God entrusted you with, one of the children of your flock which the Holy Spirit (through the laying on of the bishop's hands) gave to you to redeem with your blood (as you did), just as your Teacher, the Great Redeemer [al-Fadi al-Akbar] redeemed them and you, O Fadi redeemer [ayyuha al-Fadi], go to rest beside Him in the Bosom of Abraham among the just and righteous.

To my beloved, the family and flock of Father Fadi, the parish of Saint Elias who went up to heaven alive, I say that the Priest Fadi did not die, but rather went up alive to heaven with the Prophet Elijah. The Priest Fadi did not die, because he was transported from death to life. The Priest Fadi did not die. He is alive with us forever.

I say to you what the righteous Prophet Job repeated when he was struck with disaster: "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

May God pardon the perpetrators. God's mercy be upon you, Father Fadi.

'Frankenstorm' Sandy - Update Saturday 27 October 2012.


This satellite image taken Thursday, and provided by the National Hurricane Center, shows Hurricane Sandy moving northward across eastern Cuba. 

Forecasters are predicting that a so-called "Frankenstorm" will hit the Eastern Seaboard of the United States in coming days, but Environment Canada's chief climatologist says there are risks to labeling such powerful weather systems with scary-sounding names.

"There's so much competition for people's time," David Phillips said in a phone interview. "Naming like this is really trying to shake up the general public… that this is something to be concerned about and aware of."

Humanizing a powerful weather system — in this case by tying it to Halloween — can encourage people to prepare for it, he said. But there are dangers in the event that a weather system fails to pack as much of a punch as expected.

"If in fact these don't live up to their billing, then clearly there is a bit of egg on one's face and people mock those that tried to scare us skinny," he said.

This time around, three large weather systems are expected to merge over the densely populated Eastern Seabord of the U.S. in coming days. 
 "It's looking like a very serious storm that could be historic," said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground.

Masters is predicting that the weather system could inflict more than $1 billion in damage.

Impact north of the border

It's unclear how much Canadians will be affected. But Hurricane Sandy, one of the ingredients in the so-called "Frankenstorm," could track northeast into Ontario next week after sweeping across the Caribbean and northeastern U.S.

Sandy has already claimed at least 38 lives, and while it will have lost some of its force if it reaches Canadian airspace, CBC's senior meteorologist said it would still pose a hazard.

"The biggest issue is how much cold air is going to reenergize this storm," Claire Martin said.
Cold air tends to lift tropical air, making it "even more dangerous," she said.

If the weather systems meet Tuesday morning around New York or New Jersey, as forecasters predict, they could create a big, wet mess that settles over the most heavily populated corridor in the U.S. and reaches as far west as Ohio.

Presidential rivals Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have both cancelled weekend rallies in Virginia, where officials are bracing for power outages and other storm damage. Utilities throughout the region are securing extra crews and equipment.


Former Son of Hamas: Muhammad was a violent man

Ramallah-born Mosab Hassan Yousef has made enough enemies in the Palestinian territories to last a lifetime. The eldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas, spent his early years as a Hamas activist and went through more than a few stints in Israeli prison.

But for ten years, Yousef was “the Green Prince,” a code name given to him by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), with whom he worked to prevent dozens of terrorist attacks during the second intifada, saving hundreds of Israeli lives.

Two years ago, Yousef – who now lives in the US – published the book Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue and Unthinkable Choices, in which he detailed his disillusionment with the violence inside Hamas and his decision to assist Israel from around 1996 to 2006.

Now 34, Yousef is a devout Christian who is open about his faith as well as his pessimism for the future of peace in the Middle East.



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