The Monetization of Religion and the Betrayal of St. Athanasios

This post can be an extension of the a prior, Taxes and the Incarnation of God, where the idea that a tax exemption for a religion as a corrupting element is introduced.   Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, paid the tax of His time then to serve as an example for us in our time. However the true story that follows can also be taken at face value about the history of early Christianity and provide insight into the propagation of heresy, and how seeds were sown for times that followed, including our own.  The history of the time is well-documented in many references but the particular details come from the reference, The Place of the Patriarchs of Antioch in Church History, by Exarch Elias B. Skaff, 1993,  Sophia Press.

With the Edict of Milan in 313, Emperor Constantine ended the official persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In fact the Edict gave freedom to all religions while it ended all ordinances hostile to the Christian religion. Constantine also gave the Church a tax-exemption status.

Meanwhile a disseminating heresy, formalized by Bishop Arius, resisted the idea that Jesus Christ is God as God the Father.  This heresy was addressed at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the defense of the co-substantial nature of Jesus with God the father (Greek term: homo-ousios) was championed primarily by Saint Athanios, a deacon from Alexandria, and Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch.  The Arian heresy was important to counter, because anything less than the co-equal Divine Nature of Jesus Christ with God (the Father and Holy Spirit) meant a return to the monotheism of Judaism or monotheistic variants where Jesus was less than God.  Jesus is the eternally-begotten Divine Son of God the Divine Father. Eternally begotten also means that there never was a single point in time when He was begotten, before which the Father was alone without Him. He was, is, and by the definition of the word eternal, will always be begotten [1][2].

The condemned Arius was present at the Council of Nicea and his followers were influenced to sign the Nicean Creed at the urging of the sister of Constantine, Constancia. Within a few years, Constancia’s influence on the Emperor resulted in the re-admitting of Arius into the Church.  Bishops leading the Arian heresy regained imperial favor which resulted in the replacement of Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, with an Arian.  A persecution of Athanios began. A slow and labored fracturing at the Church of Antioch was started, whose first Bishop was the Apostle Peter.  Antioch is also known as the seat of the famous Bishop and martyr St. Ignatius in the 2nd Century.  At one point,  the majority of bishops in both eastern and western churches followed the Arian heresy.  Even after Arianism waned, divisions among the orthodox prevailed at Antioch and despite the works of Saints Basil and Chrysostom, the center of eastern orthodoxy shifted to Constantinople.   Antioch continued in orthodoxy, with the Melkites dividing off to formally recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the 18th Century.

The sequels of the Arian heresy may not be obvious to the casual observer of history and for our time. Consider however the following quote from the monotheistic religion of Islam:

“He, God, is one! God, the Eternal One! He will not generate, nor was he generated, and none is equal to him!” (Koran, 112, 2,4).

And for the Christian in the current age, are there heresies or unorthodox teachings, such as those for contraception that are related? Consider again the following quote by Saint Athanios about an Arian Bishop of Antioch, Leontius, who sterilized himself to live with a woman:

“How can sterile and ignorant persons understand the eternal birth of God?”

Note carefully. Baptism imparts the pro-creative Nature of the Trinity on us. Even without us physically procreating. In fact much more so than procreating. Meet the only religion of God, the ONLY religion compatible with our physiology.

Can then the dilution and weakening of Christian teachings then be related to the influence of government or empire?  Is one mechanism of influence of empire over the Church that of tax-exemption?  Do Christians have to oscillate from persecution and physical martyrdom to heresy of teachings during “official” offers of freedom of religion but with outside influence?  Can the worship of “officialdom” in our time explain the lukewarmness and even doublespeak of bishops and shepherds? Note that it only took a a generation for the persecutions of Christians to resume under Constantine’s nephew, Julian the Apostate.

[1] With the Incarnation of God in the flesh, His eternal begotten nature becomes manifest in the flesh through the Virgin Mother. The Eternal has now entered the physical realm.  That is why she is ever-virgin, and mother of the new eternal race.

[2] This understanding of the eternally begotten nature of Christ (past, present, and future) has the potential to solve the Filioque controversy, since the Holy Spirit, with the same eternal nature has to exist (in mystery and outside the constraint of time) in the “was”, “is”, and “will always be” begotten nature of the Son.  Only in the “will be begotten” understanding of the Son, can we see how the Holy Spirit can proceed from the Father alone.

The Bishop of Rome and the Twelve

The crises of our time compel us to look at the history and in the current ecclesial crisis we can look at Christ’s foundational and therefore eternal work for perspective. The Melkite Eparchy of Newton has an excellent document, The Melkite Church at the Council, in support of the argument to be presented here, particularly Chapters 5-7. This much shorter discussion will touch on the history of the College of Cardinals after primarily presenting the case for election of the Bishop of Rome by all apostolic churches.

That all the apostolic churches, including the Orthodox churches recognize the Primacy of the See of Peter is assumed here. This is generally case with the definition of primacy more the subject of controversy than its existence.

“He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10,14).

John’s reference is for the Church defined by Christ in the 12 Apostles. Most would agree that the number 12 represents the entire Church he founded. His foundation is an ecclesial mystery not founded by of the apostles, including the apostle Peter, rather by the mystery that is His presence after the resurrection. This Presence is Sacramental and in the case of the present day apostles, it is the Sacrament of Holy Orders that creates the new generation of apostles. The work and collegiality of the 12 apostles including the addition of more, not the least of whom is Paul, is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. These works are both autonomous while in recognition of the Primacy of Peter, even with disagreements that are at worst temporary in the mystery of Christ’s Presence.

From Chapter 6 of the above reference:

“Holy Scripture affirms a power of primacy, on the part of Peter, over the rest of the Apostles and over the whole Church. But Scripture does not affirm in any way that no bishop can be constituted in the Church except through the intervention, “direct or indirect,” of Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome. We even explicitly see the other Apostles constituting bishops without referring in any way to Peter. The same is true of their disciples, such as Titus or Timothy. If it is necessary to understand the text as applying to bishops in the strict sense, doesn’t the Scripture say that it is the Holy Spirit who instituted the bishops to rule the Church (cf. Acts 20:28)? It is difficult, without doing violence to the text, to find in the Scripture a basis which permits affirming that no bishop obtains jurisdiction over his Church except through the “direct or indirect” intervention of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter.”

Just as the validity of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance are direct works of God the Holy Spirit and are operational, i.e. valid, in all the apostolic churches and as affirmed by the Latin Church, so must the priesthood and episcopal ascendancy to Patriarchs of the eastern churches be valid. If the concern by the Latin Church under the See of Peter is that allowing full communion of the Eastern apostolic Churches with the Latin Church would compromise the Church instituted by Christ, then that same concern should be for any Sacramental event. A glaring witness of our time is the both doctrinal and personal perversion of priests and bishops, yet this does not compromise the efficacy of the Sacrament offered to the recipient. Christ guarantees His work and Presence in the Sacrament while waiting for the personal conversion of the administrator if necessary. He will confront the Bishop as he does with the seven Bishops in Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation, interpreted symbolically or literally. Therefore the ascendancy of the Bishop of Rome could involve the Patriarchy of the Eastern Churches to complete the role of the Bishop of Rome as representative of the 12 apostles. This completeness may have been wanting for over 1000 years.

This theory suggests certain degradation in those churches excluded from their “birth right” as part of the “12”. This can be the loss of the reach commanded by Christ to Peter to “feed my sheep”. Similarly, degradation to autocracy of the role of the See of Peter becomes a risk in any exclusion of the “12”.

“There is, in fact, among the bishops only one Church, only one soul, only one heart… There is, through the institution of Christ, one and only one Church, spread out over the whole world, one and only one episcopacy represented by a multiplicity of bishops united among themselves… The Church forms a single whole, whose bond is the union of bishops” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 66, 8,3).

As a final note, we touch on the body used to elect the Bishop of Rome in our current time and for the last 1000 years, namely the College of Cardinals. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that this was initially a closed group of individuals that included non-clergy and grew at the expense of the successors of the Apostles. Compare this to the notion of the “12” in full effect at the time of the Acts of the Apostles and for the first millennium.

Archbishop Elias Zoghby’s Vision of Christian Unity


by Father James K. Graham

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2008 edition of Sophia, the magazine for the Melkite Eparchy of Newton.

The works of recently-reposed Archbishop Elias Zoghby, former Patriarchal Vicar in Egypt and Sudan, and retired Metropolitan of Baalbek, especially the essays collected in A Voice from the Byzantine East [1] and the monograph Tous Schismatiques [2], provide a vision of Melkite ecclesiology solidly based in the Eastern Tradition, representative of the thinking of the Melkite Fathers of Vatican II, and consistent with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiological thought.

Archbishop Elias bases his ecclesiology in the first millennium of undivided, but diverse, Christianity. During that period, he says, the Churches founded by the Apostles grew and evangelized the known world, developing liturgically, theologically, and ecclesiologically according to the particular needs of each geographical location and also according to their unique historical-cultural-political situations. A basic agreement on the essential content of the Christian faith, derived from the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus and the disciples and their successors, and articulated for the universal Church at the seven Ecumenical Councils, united all Christians, despite their wide geographic dispersal and their many divergent local practices.

The Great Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople came as the culmination of intensifying conflict between the two Churches, two cultures, and two political systems. The Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Florence (1439) aimed at reuniting the separated Churches, and despite the increasingly institutionalized condition of schism, both councils bear witness to a consciousness of some kind of continuing communion, for the bishops of both East and West convened and voted.[3] This sense of communion without administrative uniformity, at least tolerant of each other’s differences, but still agreeing on the essentials of the Christian faith, forms the foundation of Archbishop Elias’ proposal for reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in our time.

Even in Tous Schismatiques, which advances his notorious plan for immediate intercommunion between the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and its separated sister the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Elias does not provide more than an outline of how the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should realize their reunion. Let us sketch that outline.

1) “The rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches requires a new formulation of the doctrine of Roman primacy. This formulation must be grounded in the common tradition of the first thousand years of Christianity.”[4]

2) “Only the union of Latins and Orthodox on the level of equality can bring together the apostolic tradition in its fullness and make Catholic unity complete. [Orthodoxy] must, therefore, share equally in the government of the reunited Church, just as must the Latin Church, under the primacy of Peter, of course.” [5]

3) The “East-West Christian dialogue should be accompanied by an even greater effort at the decentralization that was begun at the Second Vatican Council, and in the Orthodox Churches it should accompany an effort of extremely qualified centralization around Peter’s successor and in the framework of traditional collegiality.” [6]

4) “All of the Churches ought to be governed by their own bishops; Eastern Christians have never conceived of Church government in any other way… The pope and his coleagues must not be entrusted habitually and normally with the government of all the Churches.” [7]

5) The Pope cannot “exercise, normally and habitually, in the Eastern Patriarchates, the role he exercises in the Latin Church in his capacity as Patriarch of the West.[8]

6) “In recalling, with theologians and ecumenists, that the faith is essentially the same in the Roman Church and in Orthodoxy, we understand that doctrine elaborated after the schism by one of the two unilaterally, that is, in the absence of the other, cannot be part of what is essential in this faith.” [9]

7) Thus, doctrine and discipline defined at the General Councils of the West after the Schism oblige only the Latin Church, and definitions made at Orthodox synods after the Schism oblige only the Orthodox Church. [10]

8) “It is our understanding of Church history and Tradition that the Church is to be governed by the bishops who are in communion with the Pope, but not exclusively by the Pope to the exclusion of the Episcopate.” [11]

9) There can be no practical progress toward resolution of the problem of primacy and reconciliation of the Churches “as long as the actual government of the Catholic Church has not been wholly and uncompromisingly transferred from the hands of this minority [the Roman Curia] to those of the pastoral Episcopate, the only agent truly responsible for the Church of Jesus Christ. [12]

10) In ruling his diocese of Rome and the dioceses of Italy whose metropolitan he is, the Pope “ought to be assisted by his local clergy.[13]

11) “The responsibilities of ruling the Latin Patriarchate of the West ought to be assumed by the Latin episcopate or their delegates near the Holy Roman See, assembled in Patriarchal Synod around the pope in the exercise of his powers as Patriarch of the West.[14]

12) “Where the whole Church is concerned, the responsibility for its administration ought to fall upon the universal Catholic episcopate (or the representatives commissioned by them) to coordinate, under the worldwide primacy of the Pope, the life and activities of the entire Church.[15]

13) In order to make reunion with Orthodoxy possible, as well as to adapt to the free and democratic conditions of the modern world, the Roman Church must return to the synodal type of Church government that even it lived under in the first Christian millennium. This means national or local church “government by genuine Bishops’ Conferences with real power,” not merely consultative or advisory bodies. [16]

14) Episcopal authority must be reaffirmed and restored because it comes directly from Jesus Christ Himself, who founded the Apostolic College in accord with Divine will. “Christ gave the ‘presidency’ of the Apostolic College to Peter only after having entrusted all the Apostles with a clear cut, well-defined mission. The leader of the Apostles was designated, then, to be head of a College which had already been constituted, a College already enjoying authentic and inalienable powers.” The Pope is the first bishop in the Church because he succeeds Peter, who was “a member of this College when he received the mission of strengthening his brethren. [17]

15) The rights and privileges of the Patriarchs must be recognized, respected, and revitalized, for “the Patriarchate is the only genuine guardian of each Church’s patrimony and one of the only checks on the spread of heterodoxy”.[18] In the Christian East, the Patriarchs are the agents of the episcopate, members of it and chosen by it. Archbishop Elias quotes Archbishop Peter Medawar as saying that the patriarch is “the most eminent guardian of the deposit of the faith, “having “major responsibility for its true and integral diffusion… He is the official spokesman of his Church and of its peoples in all circumstances… In conformity with the ancient law, the patriarchs have the right and even the obligation to carry the burden of governing the Universal Church together with the Holy Father and to do so in a more outstanding and formal manner than the other bishops.[19]

16) The reinterpretation of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome should be based on the Eastern understanding of his position as primus inter pares, which is sacramental rather than juridical. That is, the pope is first among equals because he, the patriarchs, and all the bishops are equal by virtue of sharing the fullness of priesthood, which is episcopacy. This understanding does not exclude the possibility that the pope, like the patriarchs, may have certain powers that other bishops do not have, [20] but these powers come from the rank of his see among the dioceses of Christendom, not from his personal succession to Peter,[21] and they originate in canonical custom and legislation, not in divine institution or essential doctrine of the faith.[22]

17) Referring to the Third Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, Archbishop Elias writes that “if the role of the Church of New Rome entails a veritable responsibility, witness, and diakonia in the service of the unity of Orthodoxy, one cannot be dealing simply with primacy of honor or precedence when one speaks of the Bishop of Rome, recognized by Orthodoxy as the first among all bishops.” [23]

18) In the reunited Church, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, so extensively elaborated by the Latin Church, would complement local autonomous episcopal collegiality, so zealously safeguarded by the Orthodox Churches. Excessive decentralization, the strength that has considerably weakened the Orthodox, would counteract excessive centralization, the weakness that has inordinately strengthened Rome.[24]

19)”Thus we would say that these rights reserved to the Bishop of Rome must be defined by mutual agreement of the Roman and Orthodox Churches. Since this matter must not in any way become a part of the essential deposit of faith required for canonical communion, it must be settled by the reunited Churches.” [25] This statement, of course, reflects Archbishop Elias’ conviction that the shared faith of the first millennium suffices for restoration of communion.

20) In fact, he says, “it is easier to agree on what concerns God than on what concerns men, knowing churchmen and their powers and privileges? Reaching accord on doctrine will be easy once we reach accord on the division of powers.” [26]

21) In matters of doctrine, the shared faith of the first millennium suffices; everything else is different non-essential formulations and elaborations of the same essential truths. And, since doctrinal formulations can never fully express the truth of what we believe, much less the truth of the Mystery of God, it is wiser to avoid dogmatic definitions as far as possible. “If one is obliged to do so‹which should be very infrequently after the stabilization of the depositum fidei‹one should do so with Christian modesty, and without a priori exclusion of other formulations that could be equally legitimate and maybe even more adequate… Revealed truth can be formulated in different ways and in different contexts. Factors such as cultural, historical, and other situations can influence these formulations without changing the Truth, which always remains the same.” [27]

22) Just as differences in doctrinal expression need not stand in the way of communion, so also differences in ecclesiology can be accommodated. “Until the 11th century, Rome and Orthodoxy each had its unique ecclesiology, at least germinally, and unity was not broken. One can conceive of these two different ecclesiologies in the Church without questioning the Faith and without altering communion.” [28]

23) We can even regard these differences as necessary for the wholeness of the Church, because “the Catholic Church, that is the Universal Church, can only consist of the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church reunited, since neither of them can claim to possess the whole Christian patrimony, spiritual, ascetical, liturgical, patristic, or doctrinal.” [29] The wholeness of the Church is legitimate diversity in essential unity.

24) Archbishop Elias conceives of Church unity in terms of East and West, and favors preservation and developement of the legitimate diversity of worship forms, theological expression, and church governance suited to peoples and countries. Jesus Christ is incarnated in each race, and each race shows forth in its own way the image and likeness of God. Thus, its expression of Christianity must be locally developed, not imported. [30] In this context, he seems to regard the re-entrance into Catholic communion by the churches of the Reformation and their descendants as a matter for the Western Church to deal with. [31] However, as expressions of legitimate diversity they figure in his larger vision of Christian unity: “no Church or group of believers however humble it may be, should be compelled to accept union by assimilation or disappearance… Indeed, we envision the true unity of the distant future to include several different rites in which almost everyone can find a home: an Anglican Catholic rite, a Presbyterian Catholic rite, perhaps even a Jewish Catholic rite, and many, many more; with some of them containing even smaller subdivisions.” [32]

25) Therefore, achieving the reunion of the Christian Church requires dedicated, humble, sacrificial effort on the part of all Christians, who should feel the pain of separation and who suffer from, as well as sometimes contribute to, its sinfulness.[33] However, the Church of Rome, since it is the head of the Churches, bears special responsibility for healing schism and restoring unity. This is its God-given mandate; this is the proper exercise of its primacy. [34] Fulfilling this role will require major changes in Roman self-understanding, a process begun at Vatican II, accompanied by fundamental changes in Roman dealings with other Christians, for “every attempt at unity centered in a pyramidal Church, built around an absolute juridical authority, and founded on submission to the Pope, instead of on co-responsibility with the older brother who is in Rome, would be doomed to failure.” [35]

However we may respond to this vision of Church unity – and as an ideal it has great appeal – our task here is to discover in it resources for fulfilling the ecumenical vocation of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, if we can. Let us begin, as we must, by flatly calling it a fantasy that ignores most of the secular and ecclesiastical history of the Christian age. Yes, the Churches should re-unite on the basis of the common faith of the first millennium, should accept legitimate diversity in worship and doctrine and discipline, and should govern themselves synodally under the benign primacy of the Bishop of Rome, first among equals, presiding in the service of charity. But at this time, and for the foreseeable future, such reunion seems at best highly improbable.

Nationalism, pluralism, colonialism,imperialism,and dogmatization of local customs and theological opinions contribute to the unlikelihood of reunion on these terms, as do centuries of carefully nurtured misunderstandings and even enmities. If the Churches truly hope one day to achieve reunion, they must strive diligently to resolve these misunderstandings and to heal these enmities, not simply at the level of international theological dialogue, not even at the level of the hierarchy or of clerical formation, but at every level of church life.

Agreement on theology by theologians has no meaning until the parishioners in church on Sunday can affirm it and apply it in their daily dealings with other Christians. As long as Catholics define themselves essentially as being “under the Pope,” and as long as Orthodox define themselves essentially as not being “under the Pope,” both sides ignorant not only of others’ faith but of their own, theological dialogue will remain so much wasted breath and reunion will remain a beautiful fantasy.

What, then, can Melkites learn from Archbishop Elias’vision? They can, and should, recognize its basic validity – it expresses our authentic understanding of the Church. It should be taught and nurtured in church schools, in homilies, in adult education classes, in regional and national clergy-laity conventions, in deacon training programs, in seminary curricula, in continuing education of clergy, in the Patriarchal Synod. It should become intimately and integrally part of the meaning of “Melkite.”

As this happens, we must also share our conviction that this vision authentically points the way to human achievement of God’s will that His people should be one with Him. Such sharing will involve more than words – though words, written in church bulletins, pastoral letters, episcopal statements, ecumenical documents, educational materials, popular magazines, and scholarly journals, will carry great weight.

Such sharing will involve acting according to our belief – individuals, families, parishes, dioceses, the entire patriarchate must seek cooperation with fellow Christians, repudiate inauthentic forms of worship and teaching and governance, and do whatever expresses our authentic vision: ordain married men, expunge latinizations, elect our own bishops, restore true monasticism, and adapt our heritage of Holy Tradition to the demands of life in the secular, pluralistic, technological, God-hungry world of the 21st century.

Often people contribute to making themselves invalids. They completely accept limitations placed upon them by circumstances or accidents, even further handicapping themselves by not daring to try actions that will challenge them but will not defeat them. Such people make themselves victims. They call themselves realistic. In effect, they deny God’s will and power. They defy God to heal them, without making any attempt to cooperate in their own healing.

Other people make every effort to overcome their handicaps or limitations. They constantly strive to reach farther or to walk longer or to stand longer by themselves. Such people make themselves victors. Others call them idealistic, but they too call themselves realistic. Consciously or not, they acknowledge God’s healing power and His willingness to cooperate with us when we try to cooperate with Him.

Melkites (and, indeed, all Christians) must stop acting like invalids, victims of circumstances and dependent on what others do to or for us. We cannot be like the paralytic, lying by the pool for 38 years waiting for someone to put him in the water. We must be like Zacchaeus, willing to climb up a tree – perhaps even to go out on a limb – to overcome our limitations. The Lord will recognize us, reward our efforts, and bring salvation to our house.

 

Father James K. Graham is the pastor of St. Elias the Prophet Melkite Church, San Jose, CA.

 

1. Archbishop Elias Zoghby, A Voice from the Byzantine East, trans. R. Bernard (West Newton, MA: Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services, 1992; original French edition, 1970).

2. Archbishop Elias Zoghby, Tous Schismatiques? (Beirut: Heidelberg Press-Lebanon, 1981). An English translation is available from the Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services. Citations in this essay are based on that translation, revised by James K. Graham. Page numbers refer to the French edition.

3. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.39.

4. Zoghby, Voice, p.71.

5. Zoghby, Voice, p.56.

6. Zoghby, Voice, p.57.

7. Zoghby, Voice, p.69.

8. Zoghby, Voice, p.70.

9. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.51.

10. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.51.

11. Zoghby, Voice, p. 75.

12. Zoghby, Voice, p.74.

13. Zoghby, Voice, p.110.

14. Zoghby, Voice, pp.110-111.

15. Zoghby, Voice, p.111.

16. Zoghby, Voice, pp.144-145.

17. Zoghby, Voice, p.83.

18. Zoghby, Voice, p. 104.

19. Zoghby, Voice, p. 118.

20. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

21. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.59.

22. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

23. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.48.

24. Zoghby, Voice, pp.56-57.

25. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

26. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.109.

27. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.17.

28. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.29.

29. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p. 14.

30. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p. 63.

31. Zoghby, Voice, p. 86.

32. Zoghby, Voice, p. 104.

A Joppa Story

This small story unfolded during our trip to the Holy Land in 2004. It was in the town of Joppa, the town of Jaffa in present day Israel. It is the town of the readings from Acts of the Apostles. It had the port through which the cedars from Lebanon were were brought in to build Solomon’s temple.

 

Here also is the Vatican’s embassy to Israel. There is a beautiful Franciscan church there near the house of Simon the Tanner (from Acts 10:6-15). It is called the Church of St. Peter.

 

When on pilgrimage there in 2004, there was a beautiful tall Jewish girl outside the church waiting to get in with us. She had just rode over on her bike from nearby Tel Aviv. It seemed to me that she came there regularly by the way she acted. While waiting she struck up a conversation with our handsome young driver, an Orthodox Christian Palestinian. I could not hear the conversation very well. She was talking about a personal decision she was trying to discern. They also talked about the prospects of peace. We went in and they stayed outside talking. The church was beautiful inside too and had a painting of Peter’s ecstasy and vision of the linen sheet with “all manner of fourfooted beasts” over the altar. When we came out the two were still talking. She sounded sad but hopeful. They then exchanged numbers, she went in, and we left.