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Christianity Archives - Page 6 of 7 - varnamvarnam | Page 6
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Tag Archives | Christianity

Europe's Sabarimala

Three years back, the Kannada actress Jaimala triggered a major controversy when she said that she had entered the sanctum santorum of Sabarimala. This triggered a debate on if women should be allowed to enter Sabarimala, discrimination of women in Hindu society and what not. In 1930s, Aliki Diplarakou, who had won the Miss Europe title, dressed up as a man and sneaked into Mt. Athos in Greece generating a similar controversy for only men are allowed there.

Mt. Athos is an autonomous monastic state on a peninsula in northern Greece. Though Greece protects the peninsula, it is self governed by the monks of the 20 monasteries of the Eastern Orthodoxy. Special permission is needed to visit Mt. Athos and only a few visitors are allowed each month. Mt. Athos does not permit women to enter and this ban has been in place since 1045 CE, since the time of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos. Mt. Athos does not even permit female animals (female cats are allowed since they catch rats).

Entry to the mountain is usually by ferry boat either from the port of Ouranoupoli (for west coast monasteries) or from Ierrisos for those on the east coast. Before embarking on the boat all visitors must have been issued a diamoneterion, a form of Byzantine visa that is written in Greek, dated using the Julian calendar, and signed by four of the secretaries of leading monasteries. [Mt. Athos]

Amin Maalouf’s novel, The Gardens of Light, based on the life of the Persian mystic Mani (216-274 CE), mentions traditions of an all male Jewish sect which had similar feelings about women. In the palm grove where the sect lived, anything female was prohibited; the only women mentioned were Eve, Bathsheba and Salome. The other women in the scripture were never mentioned and sect members were prevented from mentioning their mother or wife.

While discriminating against women was not unusual in those times in the Middle East and Europe, you would think that would not be the case after the age of enlightenment. But when Greece joined the European Union – which does not support discrimination against women – a special clause was added for Mt. Athos.

Recognising that the special status granted to Mount Athos, as guaranteed by Article 105 of the Hellenic Constitution, is justified exclusively on grounds of a spiritual and religious nature, the Community will ensure that this status is taken into account in the application and subsequent preparation of provisions of Community law, in particular in relation to customs franchise privileges, tax exemptions and the right of establishment.[30 Jan 2001 : Column WA43]

When the Schengen visa came into effect, the monks saw it as Devil’s work. In 2003, the European Parliament criticized the ban on women on Mt. Athos and asked Greece to abolish the law which gives jail sentences to women caught entering this place. And guess what the answer was from the country which gave the West, rational thought:

“The Holy Mountain is subject to… a special status regarding which an insistence on the implementation of very important principles — such as equal rights of access, unrestricted movement, free trade or competition — would be in direct confrontation with fundamental, 1,000-year-old traditions, our faith and the monastic spirit of the Mountain,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis said.[Athens defends Mt Athos ban]

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Game Theory and the Middle East

Some books of the Hebrew Bible call on the followers to destroy people who did not worship Yahweh, but certain other books call for Israelites to peacefully co-exist with others. You can find similar passages in the Koran too. So why are certain passages conciliatory and others belligerent. What were the circumstances in which those passages were written and is there something we can learn from it to bring peace in the Middle East so that we can finally move that ladder?

The secret is game theory – the swing between zero-sum and non-zero-sum – and this, Robert Wright, says may give us hope for religious harmony.

Sometimes this may mean engineering the non-zero-sumness — for example, strengthening commerce between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Other times it will mean highlighting a non-zero-sum dynamic that already exists — emphasizing, for example, that continued strife between Israelis and Palestinians will be lose-lose (as would escalated tensions between the “Muslim world” and the “West” more broadly). Enduring peace would be win-win.

This peace would also have been foretold. Isaiah (first Isaiah, not the Isaiah of the exile) envisioned a day when God “shall arbitrate for many peoples” and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And in a Koranic verse dated by scholars to the final years of Muhammad’s life, God tells humankind that he has “made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.”

This happy ending is hardly assured. It can take time for people, having seen that they are playing a non-zero-sum game, to adjust their attitudes accordingly. And this adaptation may never happen if barriers of mistrust persist.[Decoding God’s Changing Moods — Printout — TIME]

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Converting Kublai Khan

According to the Joshua Project, the 10/40 window is home to people where the gospel has to be preached. The goal of this project is to share information to “encourage pioneer church-planting movements among every ethnic group and to facilitate effective coordination of mission agency efforts.” Or in simple words, facilitate conversion in Islamic countries, India, China and other minor countries in the neighborhood.

Ever since Roman Emperor Constantine legitimized the Jesus movement and converted to Christianity in his death bed, the religion expanded in a major way to change the West forever. There was a similar opportunity for Christians in the 13th century to convert Kublai Khan. If the Khan had converted, during the time of Mongol dominance (see map), the religious map of China and Mongolia would have made a Joshua Project volunteer smile.

The Khan did not hate Christians; in fact he had great respect for them. He was always curious about Christian kings and princes and wanted to know more about the Pope and how how Christians worshiped. When Niccolò and Maffeo (Marco Polo’s father and uncle) were returning back to Venice after their first visit, the Khan sent a letter to the Pope with them. It was a challenge. He wanted the Pope to send a hundred missionaries prepared to proselytize. These missionaries had to reason out that their faith was superior than others. If the Khan could be convinced he was ready to become a man of the Church without renouncing the Mongolian religion. He also wanted the Polos to get him the oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to have great healing powers.

The Polos gave Khan’s letter to the newly elected  Pope Gregory X who could only spare two Dominican monks instead of the hundred. With the oil, the two Polo brothers, along with a 17 year Marco Polo and the monks, started their journey to the Khan’s court. The monks dropped out in the middle of the journey due to fear, but the Polos reached the Khan’s court near Beijing and the Khan treated the oil with respect (the same way he would treat relics from Sri Pada)

Kublai Khan was once challenged by Nayan Khan, his uncle, who was a Nestorian Christian. In this power struggle, Nayan fought under a standard which displayed the “Cross of Christ”, but he did get any visions like Constantine during the battle of the Milvian bridge. Nayan lost and was killed as per Mongol custom – by wrapping in a carpet and dragged around violently – so that blood is not spilled. Following this when various people made fun of Nayan’s Christian faith and Holy Cross, Kublai Khan differentiated between Nayan’s treachery and his faith and ensured the Christians that they will not be persecuted for their religion; he did not behave like the 15th century Spaniards and 17th century French.

Actually Kublai Khan’s mother, Sorghaghtani Beki, was a Nestorian Christian. So you would think that she would influence him to convert. Even though she was a single parent, she made him appreciate Buddhism, Taoism and Islam besides Christianity. It was probably a wise thing to do to preserve harmony in the empire, but Sorghaghtani Beki did it out of conviction.

Seeing the Khan’s sympathy towards Christians the Polos asked why he did not convert? He said Christianity was just another religion and nothing else. Much before Marco Polo, William of Rubruck – a Franciscan missionary – made his way to Karakorum, debating Buddhist priests and nearly dying of starvation. He finally met Mongke Khan, Kublai Khan’s brother who explained to the Friar that the God has passed various religious beliefs to people and Mongols were a tolerant folk.

Kublai Khan told Marco Polo that he found idolaters had more power – they could make wine cups float to the khan or make storms go away. Basically he was more impressed with shaman magic than the promise of an after life. He said if he converted to Christianity and if his barons asked for an explanation, he had none. He thought that embracing Christianity would weaken him and the best way to maintain peace in the empire was to be in good terms with barons.

Right now 50% of Mongolians are Buddhists and 40% don’t belong to any religion. Christians and Shamanists form 6%; Muslims, 4%.

References:

  1. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen
  2. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World by John Larner
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Jon Voight's Biblical World

A concern for the anonymous author of The Gospel of Matthew was false prophets.

That gospel was written between 80-85 CE. It was not just Matthew, but others like the author of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles also warned against false prophets.  A decade or so after the Gospel of Matthew was written, the second epistle of Peter also warned against false prophets and false teachers. According to Prof. Bart Ehrman, the author of Peter was writing at a time when early Christians were expecting the end of the world and were ridiculed for it.

Looks like Jon Voight arrived from that period.

In a speech at the Republican Senate-House fundraising dinner last night, actor Jon Voight criticized President Obama at length, calling him a “false prophet” who causing “oppression” in America.[Think Progress» McConnell ‘really enjoyed’ Voight’s speech that claimed Obama might allow ‘a new Holocaust.’]

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How did Adam reach Sri Lanka?

In this picture, taken in 1885, you will see a small ladder placed near the top-right window. In this picture, taken more than a century later, you can see the ladder exactly at the same position. The building is Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built where Jesus is believed to be crucified and burried, and in Jerusalem, moving even a ladder requires divine intervention.

There is another place in the world, which is holy not just for Christians and Muslims, but also for Hindus and Buddhists where such problems do not exist. Located in Sri Lanka and currently called Adam’s peak, it was called Samanalakanda by the Sinhalese and Shivanolipatha Malai and Shiva padam by Hindus.So connection does Adam have with Sri Lanka and how did it become Adam’s peak?

First, what’s at the top of the mountain.? Captain John Ribeyro who fought in the civil war in the 17th century described the summit[5].

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Hindus believe that this depression on the mountain which resembles a giant foot is the foot step of Shiva; for Buddhists it is the foot print of Buddha. Chrisitians believe that it belongs to St. Thomas and there are many other traditions which attribute the foot print to Jehovah, Eunuch of Candace and Satan[1]. It is Muslim tradition that attributes the foot print to Adam, their first prophet.

In fact there is an explanation for how Adam, a person from a middle eastern tradition, reached Sri Lanka. God, upset by Adam and Eve, threw them out of heaven and Adam landed in Sri Lanka creating an impression on the peak. He repented for a millennium when Gabriel took him to Arabia where Eve had landed. They both then returned to Sri Lanka and propagated the human race[4].

Soleyman, an Arab merchant who visited Ceylon in the ninth century, mentioned the Adam tradition, which suggests that it was prevalent within two centuries of Islam’s founding. Sindbad the Sailor’s tales, believed to be partly based on real sailors tales, also mentions a pilgrimage to the place “where Adam was confined after his banishment from Paradiese.” It is believed that this tradition originated among the Copts (Egyptian Christians) of the fourth and fifth centuries[4]. There is also a story which mentions that a group of three Arabs led by Sheikh Seijuddin, who according to tradition, converted Cheraman Perumal of Kodungallur, were on a pilgrimage to Adam’s peak.

Diego de Couto, a Portuguese writer of the 16th century did not believe it was the foot print of Adam; he thought it belonged to St. Thomas. Marco Polo had heard from Muslims and Christians that there was a monument to Adam, but he did not agree with that it had anything to do with Adam. This was because, according to the scripture of Marco Polo’s Church, Adam belonged to another part of the world. Instead he believed the Buddhist version and that the teeth, hairs and bowl of some “venerable figure” was commemorated[2].

When he heard about the relics, Marco Polo’s patron Kublai Khan sent emissaries to Ceylon
to ask Parakkamabahu II, a Sri Lankan King without a Wikipedia entry, for these items. It took three years for the emissaries to reach Ceylon and they got two molar teeth, some hair, and the bowl. According to Marco Polo, Kublai Khan received these items with respect[2].

Marco Polo never climbed the mountain, but Ibn Battuta did. He went to Ceylon specifically for mountaineering. With an entourage of 10 Brahmin priests, 15 porters, 10 courtiers and 4 yogis (provided by Martanda Cinkaiariyan of the Aryacakravarti dynasty) he made the trip to the peak and back. The final climb was quite hard  – a vertical ascent “by means of little stirrups affixed to chains suspended from iron pegs.” There he prayed with Buddhists and Muslims but does not mention seeing Christians[3].

The mountain was officially renamed to Adam’s peak by Major James Rennell, the British geographer who worked in India.

References:

  1. The History of a Mountain By Elise Reclus, Bertha Ness, John Lillie
  2. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by by Laurence Bergreen
  3. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn.
  4. Adam’s Peak by William Skeen
  5. History Of Ceylon: Presented By Captain John Ribeyro To The King Of Portugal, In 1685 (1847)

(Image Credit: Munir)

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