November 12, 2016
Yesterday, a former student of mine, whom I count as a friend, requested on Facebook that any Facebook friends of hers who voted for Trump unfriend her. This is my response.
In compliance with your request on Facebook yesterday, I am unfriending you. But, for the sake of past friendship, I would ask that you read the following account of why I voted for Mr. Trump this past Tuesday. My decision came down to basically two issues: the issue of war, and the issue of crime.
First, the issue of war. Mrs. Clinton, as shown by her actions and statements over the past two decades, is a notorious war hawk, one of the architects of the doctrine of “humanitarian interventionism” that is essentially imperialism with a smiley face. In her concern to outdo the Republicans at their own game, she never met a war she didn’t like. As First Lady, she supported her husband’s bombing of Serbia; as senator, she voted in favor of the war on Iraq and supported the Patriot Act; as Secretary of State, she orchestrated the assault upon Libya which left that once prosperous country in ruins; she joked about the brutal sodomizing and murder of Libya’s president, Col. Gaddafi (“We came, we saw, he died”); she helped organize the “rat line” whereby the CIA illegally transported arms from Benghazi to jihadists in Syria via Turkey (one consequence of which was the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens, who recognized the danger he was in and had petitioned the State Department in vain for an armed guard); through her protégé Victoria Nuland she orchestrated a violent “color revolution” in Ukraine that has led to a civil war in that country and thousands of deaths; since leaving office, she has continued to back the terrorists fighting to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria – using the bogus excuse that the people we are supporting are “moderates” — and, disastrously, she has called for the implementation in Syria of a “no fly zone,” which could easily lead to a direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia. Many compare the current situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (frequently referred to as the most dangerous moment in human history), and have pointed out that, if anything, the dangers of nuclear war are greater now than then, partly because the existence of “mini-nukes” makes using nuclear weapons more thinkable, partly because the current Washington political establishment is less restrained and self-critical, more addicted to group-think, and more beholden to foreign governments for guiding US foreign policy. Mrs. Clinton is the perfect embodiment of that political establishment; she seems utterly oblivious to the dangers of war; like her neocon advisers, she is happy to support the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders, place nuclear missiles on a hair trigger within easy striking distance of cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and, at home, direct a constant stream of abuse towards the Russians, blaming them for all of America’s problems including Wikileaks’ revelations about corruption at the DNC and in her own campaign. Among these revelations, there is the fact that Mrs. Clinton received massive funding (illegally) from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar when she knew that these governments were funding ISIS and supplying it with arms to murder and rape women and children. This, then, in short, is why I publicly stated long ago that I could not vote for Mrs. Clinton. She is a person with a lot of blood on her hands, and has repeatedly demonstrated bad judgment in the very area where she thinks her credentials are strongest, foreign policy. I saw a vote for Clinton as being a vote for war, for an escalation of proxy regime change wars in Syria and elsewhere, and for the suicidal possibility of nuclear war with Russia and/or China. I rejected this by voting for Trump, who has clearly expressed his intention to end the Syrian war and cooperate with Russia in fighting Islamic terrorism, maintaining this position even in the face of the hypocritical media criticism that he is Putin’s puppet. With Trump, there is at least a possibility that the neocons who have dominated American foreign policy thinking for the past generation will be kicked out of power. I would like to see that.
Then there is the issue of crime. This is a more diffuse and nebulous subject, since the reported criminality of the Clintons is prodigious and multifaceted, but the facts are less easily established; at one level, this criminality involves bribery, money laundering, kick-back schemes, vote-rigging, use of a charitable organization for private enrichment, and the illegal use of a private e-mail server for transmitting classified information; at a deeper level, there is evidence that it involves kidnapping, child abuse, and murder. Because the former allegations are better known, I will focus on the latter. Around the beginning of August this year, I became aware of a string of deaths of at least five people who had been investigating the Clintons, all of whom died within the space of a month, some murdered without apparent motive, others said to have committed suicide; among them were Seth Rich, Sean Lucas, and Victor Thorn. If one does an internet search on “Clinton Body Count” one can find a remarkable infographic chart which, if nothing else, makes it clear that possessing compromising knowledge about the Clintons’ personal activities can be hazardous to one’s health. I have read enough history to understand that the common, benign assumption that American politicians are basically good and do not murder to further their careers is false; among presidents, Lyndon Johnson and the Bushes are men who rose by this nefarious practice. If mainstream news does not report these matters, if they label any attempt to shed light upon them “conspiracy theories,” it is because people in the media would rather keep their comfortable positions by writing pabulum than end up dead like Seth Rich, Sean Lucas, Victor Thorn, Michael Hastings, and other investigative journalists who sought to expose corruption in high places (note that Mrs. Clinton, in a meeting with her staff, expressed a desire that someone would get rid of Julian Assange; at first, they thought she was joking, but it became clear she wasn’t).
More recently, just before the election, I came across a picture that juxtaposed Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta and his brother Tony Podesta with police sketches made some years ago by Scotland Yard in its investigation of the abduction of a three-year-old girl, Madeleine McCann, from a hotel room in Portugal on May 3, 2007. (See http://sli.mg/vbobS8 ) To my thinking, the resemblance of the two brothers to the faces in the police sketches is uncanny, particularly so in the case of John Podesta. Later, I read an article that pointed out that the sketch resembling Tony Podesta shows a small mole over the corner of his right eyebrow; Tony Podesta has a small mole over the corresponding corner of his left eyebrow. Other evidence: Wikileaks’ cache of John Podesta’s emails begins on the day after the abduction (May 4, 2007), suggesting that earlier emails had been erased from the server; also, it shows that John Podesta in fact had visited Portugal, and had business contacts in Praia da Luz where Madeleine McCann was kidnapped. Add to this the Podesta brothers’ acquaintance with Marina Abramovic, their invitation to one of her “Spirit Cooking” affairs (a form of “art” involving blood and semen that is essentially a satanic ritual), perverse artworks in Tony Podesta’s house depicting violence to children, the association of the brothers with the “Comet Ping Pong” nightclub in Washington, D.C., and the frequent appearance in Podesta’s e-mails of pedophile code language: the result was that I became convinced that the Podestas are involved in some form of child trafficking. Other evidence tying this activity with the Clintons: Bill Clinton’s frequent flights on the convicted pedophile Jeremy Epstein’s private jet; Hillary Clinton’s intervention to free Laura Silsby, who was in jail in Haiti after being convicted of trafficking children; the sick behavior of Andrew Wiener, the husband of Mrs. Clinton’s closest adviser, Huma Abedin. The net result of all this is that it appears likely to me that child abuse is part of the political culture to which the Clintons belong, and that the Clintons themselves belong to, and probably are at the heart of, a political child trafficking ring, in which child abuse is used, among other things, for political ends — most likely, for blackmailing potential opponents so as to silence them and keep them in line.
These revelations about the Madeleine McCann abduction were what finally tipped the balance for me. Until that point, I had seriously considered voting for Jill Stein. But, given that I live in a swing state, where the election might have been decided by a few votes, I did not want to do anything that would allow Hillary Clinton to enter the White House. I voted for Trump, with a clear conscience. There are many things that I do not like about Mr. Trump, not least his grotesque private comments about women; I also disagree with him on many matters of policy, particularly concerning the environment and economics. These are important issues, but I considered them less important than preventing nuclear war and preventing a crime syndicate from taking control of the United States government. On both these issues, I am genuinely convinced that Mrs. Clinton represented a real danger. You may disagree. But I hope that the above discussion shows that my vote for Mr. Trump was not done from motives of “racism” or “sexism,” but out of concern for the common good.
September 9, 2016
One of the pages on this blog that used to get a fair amount of traffic is The New Testament read in Greek; it provides a series of links to recordings of every chapter of the New Testament, read by me in the original Koine (this was a project I completed on Christmas Day in 2010). Unfortunately, for the past two years the links on that page were not working; this is because the site on which the audio files had been hosted, Ubuntu One File Service, was closed in July 2014. (The files had originally been hosted at Apple’s MobileMe, which similarly closed in 2012.) Earlier this month, I purchased extra storage capacity at Google Drive, and uploaded the New Testament audio files to that site; I have now repaired the links, and the recordings at the page The New Testament read in Greek should again be accessible to anyone who wishes to hear them.
September 3, 2016
Dictionnaire de la Bible
Edited by F. Vigouroux, with the collaboration of many scholars. Published in 39 fascicles between 1895 and 1912, and brought together into eleven separate volumes in 1912 (each of the five “tomes” of the work takes up at least two physical volumes).
August 31, 2016
The Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique is a massive and invaluable theological reference work, which was begun in 1898 under the editorial direction of Jean Michel Alfred Vacant and continued to appear under successive editors (E. Mangenot, E. Amann) and with various revisions until work on it ended in 1950. Much of it is now in the public domain; the complete text of at least an early version of it is available online, on Internet Archive. Below I provide links to these volumes, and to a few articles from them.
2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document: West will facilitate rise of Islamic State “in order to isolate the Syrian regime”
May 23, 2015
I have not blogged at this site for some time. But this is essential reading, and needs to have as wide an audience as possible; therefore I am posting it here.
On Monday, May 18, the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch published a selection of formerly classified documents obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense and State Department through a federal lawsuit.
While initial mainstream media reporting is focused on the White House’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attack, a much “bigger picture” admission and confirmation is contained in one of the Defense Intelligence Agency documents circulated in 2012: that an ‘Islamic State’ is desired in Eastern Syria to effect the West’s policies in the region.
Astoundingly, the newly declassified report states that for “THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY [WHO] SUPPORT THE [SYRIAN] OPPOSITION… THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.
The DIA report, formerly classified “SECRET//NOFORN”…
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August 9, 2014
I know that I have neglected this blog for a long time: for that, I apologize. There are many reasons for this neglect, perhaps the main one being that my work as a teacher takes precedence. But I thought I would present readers of this blog with a translation I completed recently of a short work titled Apology, by John Bekkos. It was written during the mid to late 1270’s, perhaps circa 1276-77, and, as it takes the form of a public address, it may actually have been a sermon Bekkos delivered, whether publicly or, as some think, before a select audience of Constantinopolitan churchmen. In it, Bekkos rebuts the accusation that he means to add the Filioque to the Greek text of the Creed (though this was, in fact, what the popes who succeeded Gregory X were pressuring him to do, with increasing vehemence as the decade of the 1270’s wore on), and he defends his policy of détente with the West by appealing to the example of the Fathers of the Church, in whose steps he claims he is following. It is curious, and perhaps worth noting, that, in this work, Bekkos compares reconciliation with the West with the policy St. Basil directed in the late fourth century towards reconciling moderate Pneumatomachians, who, while acknowledging the Spirit’s divine attributes, were uneasy about applying to the Spirit the term “God”; the comparison cannot be seen as very flattering towards the Westerners.
Italicized numbers in brackets within the translation refer to pagination of the Greek text as given in Hugo Lämmer’s Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae Bibliotheca Selecta (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1864). Lämmer republishes the text that was edited by Leo Allatius and originally published by him in 1659; that text is also to be found in Migne, Patrologia Graeca vol. 141, cols. 1009C-1020B. In one place, towards the end of this work, I have corrected a mistake in Allatius’s text by checking it against the earliest manuscript (Laurentianus plut. VIII.26).
I would only add that this translation, like all other materials on this blog, is copyrighted; if people want to quote from it, that is fine, but those who do so ought to cite their source and acknowledge the translator. I have had the unpleasant experience of finding my own translations quoted verbatim, without attribution, in at least one published academic book; those who do this should know that they risk legal action.
That an acceptance of the union of the Churches does not lead to the destruction of our traditions, but to peace in Christ, because the Churches agree in their understanding of doctrine.
 1. “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” Today I call upon heaven and earth to hear my words. And how shall I succeed in uttering a voice that should make the ends of the earth resound? And if I fail to come by such a voice, how may I satisfy that desire which  has led me today to summon heaven and earth to hear my words? But he who chose the fishermen, and who so strengthened them in their weakness that “their sound went forth into all the earth, and their words were heard to the ends of the inhabited world,” shall strengthen my weakness by the overflowing abundance of his power, and shall prepare the hearts of all who may hear an echo of my discourse, making them open to receiving the truth. For if he is a God of truth, one who rejoices in being called “the truth” (for David also teaches me to address him as “truth”), he will cause our words to be communicated to the Christians throughout the inhabited world. And he will do this, because the promoter of lies has spread the nets of his slander against us upon the whole territory of those who are called by Christ’s name, not confining himself to specific peoples and towns, but ensnaring even those who dwell in caves and in mountains.
2. But what is the slander, and how do we make a defense of ourselves as to those things in which we have been slandered? Come and hear, all you nations; give ear, all you inhabitants of the world.  All of you certainly know, and none of you is unaware, how the longstanding hatred between the Churches of Christ, between, I mean, the elder Rome and our new Rome, turned back again into the good estate of that ancient peace, by the favor of Christ the prince of peace, who reunites and links those things that were sundered. But you also know how Satan, who forever eyes the good with malice, who substitutes his own hatred in place of Christ’s peace, who, again, is always plotting and warring against those who belong to Christ, was tireless in whipping up multitudes to oppose the peace; and, although he failed to find a way to circumvent the good of the peace itself, out of all evil stratagems he discovered one worthy of his wickedness. And the stratagem is this: he causes a rumor to sound in the hearings of all, a rumor concerning the addition made by the Romans to the Creed, alleging that the bishop of Constantinople has been co-opted by the Church of Rome to persuade the Church of the Greeks to read this Creed with the same addition. And, once this rumor had taken wing, and had flown with unchecked force throughout the world, it filled everyone’s hearing with the slander against us.
 3. That, then, is the slander. But our apology in response to it, on behalf of which we are summoning a world-wide hearing, will not be composed of plausible arguments of the sort used by those who attempt to win their case by showing off their expertise in employing human wisdom; but for demonstrating the truth it will make use of the things that were done and enacted by the luminaries and teachers of the Church; looking towards those things, as to a pattern, we came across those arguments which have been the occasion for the slander that everywhere resounds against us. For being ourselves simple, and wearing the simplicity of Christ as a coat, we shall make our apology with all plainness, once we have prepared the impartial judgment of the hearers to know and to assess, whether it is in line with the pattern handed down to the Church from the fathers that we advocate for the Church of Rome as regards the addition made by the Romans to the Creed or, instead, we are acting out of some privately adopted opinion and, as those who slander us say, with disrespect towards the fathers’ customs and institutions.
In the first place, then, we find that the most great Athanasius – that extraordinary man, the sun of the ecclesiastical firmament, whose word is unconquerable,  whose manner is inimitable – when in his days no minor scandal had broken out between these very same Churches which are the subject of our present discourse, brought about a reconciliation between them no otherwise than by acting as an advocate for the Roman Church (since the Easterners had judged those belonging to that Church to be their adversaries). And what was his advocacy? Let him be present here himself, and by the words expressed by his own tongue let him announce to us what it was. For in his Tome to the Antiochenes he speaks thus:
“For as to those whom some were blaming for speaking of three hypostases, on the ground that the phrase is unscriptural and therefore suspicious, we thought it right indeed to require nothing beyond the confession of Nicaea; but on account of the contention we made enquiry of them, whether they meant, like the Arian madmen, hypostases foreign and strange, and alien in essence from one another, … or whether, like other heretics, they meant three Beginnings and three Gods.”
And after the interpretation brought forward by them of the words, in an orthodox sense, he adds:
“Having accepted then those men’s  interpretation and defense of their language, we made enquiry of those blamed by them for speaking of one hypostasis, whether they use the expression in the sense of Sabellius, to the negation of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Then in his discourse he inserts also the apology these people made in response to this, and, in what follows, divinely adjuring [us] by the harmony of conception in the interchangeability of the words, he says:
“Well, thereupon they who had been blamed for saying there were three hypostases agreed with the others, while those who had spoken of one hypostasis also confessed the doctrine of the former as interpreted by them.”
And going forward, he adds to those things already said:
“Those things then being thus confessed, we exhort you not hastily to condemn those who so confess and so explain the phrases they use, nor reject them, but rather to accept them as they desire peace and defend themselves, while you check and rebuke, as of suspicious views, those who refuse so to confess and to explain their language. But while you refuse toleration to the latter, counsel the others also who explain and  hold aright, not to enquire further into each other’s opinions, nor to fight about words to no useful purpose, but to agree in the mind of piety. For they who are not thus minded, but only stir up strife with petty phrases, … do nothing except ‘give their neighbor turbid confusion to drink,’ like men who grudge peace and who love schisms.”
“Irreligiousness is utterly forbidden, though it be attempted to disguise it with artful expressions and plausible sophisms; but religiousness is confessed by all to be lawful, even though presented in strange phrases, provided only they are used with a religious view, and a wish to make them the expression of religious thoughts.”
And again, after some other things:
“Therefore if they … make an excuse that the terms are strange, let them consider the sense in which the Council so wrote…, that, even if the expressions are not in so many words in the Scriptures, yet, as was said before, they contain the sense of the Scriptures, and expressing it, they convey it to those who have their hearing unimpaired for religious doctrine.”
These, then,  are the echoing sounds that reverberate from Athanasius’s thunderous tongue. But, for our part, because we observed that that shining light of the inhabited earth effected a reconciliation of the Churches in his own days, using such acts of economy and such reasonings, and because we deemed it a great thing to walk in his footsteps and be illuminated, as by a guiding light, by those things which he effected for the edification of the Church, whose cornerstone and linking keystone is Christ God, we gave ourselves to the reconciliation with the Roman Church, despising empty logomachy and contentions over terms as utterly useless, given that we understood the Church of Rome to be in agreement with us in its conception of orthodoxy; we cast such logomachy away, so that we might not hear ourselves being called those who “stir up strife with petty phrases,” and who “give their neighbor turbid confusion to drink, like those who grudge peace and who stir up schisms.”
4. Come therefore, you hearers of my words, judge impartially before the Trinity itself, before every heavenly power, if those people who charge us with advocating for the Ro-  man Church, as though it were the greatest of accusations, cast their votes against us justly, given that that Church, as far as the meaning goes, confesses [the faith] in a most orthodox manner; for, although they are accused of thinking there are two origins and two causes in the blessed Trinity, they dispel that accusation insofar as they revere and confess one origin and one cause. Athanasius served as advocate for the Roman Church, although he had no pattern for his advocacy, and although, in advocating, he looked towards no other paradigm; and he did this when the Italians seemed to have erred with respect to the weightiest of matters. For their confession of “one hypostasis” in the Trinity presented a suspicion of Sabellianism. And, as for us, we are charged with transgressing the ordinances of the fathers, although we follow the teacher Athanasius as his disciple, and direct our actions by looking towards his, as to a paradigm and archetype.
Now I suppose no further arguments will be required of me to demonstrate that we did not act in error by advocating for the Roman Church, overlooking the lack of agreement in words, and grasping hold of the agreement in meaning, for the sake of the God-  beloved and legitimate good of peace. But if, on account of the gospel faith in what is said by two or three witnesses, I be required to produce yet other advocates among orthodoxy’s teachers, advocates who indeed did not go so far as to change the opposing side into that for which they made advocacy, but advocates who directed the whole point of their own position towards the peace of both parties, as imitators of Christ the prince of peace who joins and unites things separated – both Basil, great in divine things, will here be presented, and Gregory who rightly bears the name Theologian will show his agreement with the things that are said. As for Basil, then, great in divine things, he eagerly strives to reconcile those who do not say that the Spirit is God with those who, in explicit language, proclaim him to be God and consubstantial with the Father and the Son. And Gregory also, pursuing the same path of reconciliation between these parties, adds to the things that Basil says. For he says that he would not reject the Jewish people if they wished to be united with us but sought, for awhile, to use the term “Anointed” rather than “Christ.”  But neither did Athanasius, great in divine things, when advocating for those who said “one hypostasis,” advocate for them to the point that those who taught three hypostases should have adopted the confession of the others; nor did Basil the Great, when he was seeking a reconciliation between those who unequivocally confessed the Spirit to be God and those who did not say that he is God, hoping to effect a peace agreement by exhibiting the equality in other terms, so serve as advocate for those who did not call the Spirit God that he changed those who do call him God into adopting that other persuasion; but neither did he who is called the Theologian, when accepting, as far as it was up to him, the people of the Jews if they decided to be united with us but chose the word “Anointed” instead of “Christ,” so advocate for this word “Anointed” as though meaning to persuade those who did not yet say this to start employing this term. And therefore, when we advocate for the Church of Rome, we do not advocate for them to this point, that those who from the beginning and up till now have read in the Symbol of Faith that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father should change this and start saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  But just as those lights of the world showed their own zeal as advocates for peace by looking towards the harmony of meaning, so we too, as disciples following those teachers, make our whole advocacy for peace and reconciliation with the Church of Rome in this way, favoring not the word, but the concept. But as for those people who are eager to accuse, and are quick to slander all things, let them accuse, let them slander. There is a God who will judge. It is he, the ultimate arbiter, to whom we shall have to render account, both for our words and for our actions. But if we have spoken thus in making our present apology, it is so that those who are preaching nothing sound against us may place no stumbling-block in the way of the souls of simpler folk, who have been summoned by my discourse to give it a hearing. For, as stated at the outset of this present apologetic speech, we made our self-defense, not with plausible arguments of the sort used by those who attempt to win their case by showing off their human wisdom; but, in demonstration of the truth, we exhibited the things done and accomplished of old by the lights and teachers of the Church.  As for you, if, after receiving this apology of ours, you still require other witnesses beside the divine witness himself, may you not give heed to those who have readied their tongues for slander; but may you become discerning seekers of the truth, and may you hold to the peace of the Churches, knowing that a great reward is laid up for those who support it in the day of recompense from Christ, the prince of peace.
1) Deut 32:1; cf. Isa 1:2.
2) Ps 19:4.
3) Cf. Ps 31:5.
4) Cf. Joel 1:2.
5) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 5, PG 26, 801A.
6) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 6, PG 26, 801C.
7) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos, 6 PG 26, 801D.
8) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 8, PG 26, 805 A-B; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 485.
9) Athanasius, De Decretis 18; PG 25b, 448 B-C; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 162.
10) Athanasius, De Decretis 21; PG 25b, 453 A-B; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 164.
11) Cf. Mt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19.
12) See Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 43.68; PG 36, 588C. Two sentences before this, Bekkos appears to summarize St. Gregory’s account, in this same Funeral Oration on Basil, of Basil’s attempts to reconcile the Pneumatomachians.
13) Reading οὐκ ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον συνηγοροῦμεν, from the text at Laurentianus plut. viii.26, fol.45. Published editions lack the word οὐκ.
November 15, 2013
Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, prioress of the Monastery of St. James the Mangled in Qâra, Syria, gave a talk yesterday evening at St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cleveland, titled What is Really Happening in Syria Today? I made a point of attending, having first heard about Mother Agnes-Mariam and her work a couple of months ago. In September, in the aftermath of the chemical weapons attack on East Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus, she presented a report to the United Nations in Geneva, pointing out that some of the children who were shown as victims in the amateur videos that began circulating on the internet on the morning of the attack had been kidnapped by rebels two weeks earlier after a massacre by rebel forces in the town of Latakia; also, in different videos, purportedly filmed at different locations, the same dead children reappear. In brief, the children were cynically used as props. (A brief summary of the report, written by Mother Agnes-Mariam herself, along with a link to the PDF of the full report, will be found here.)
Most of Mother Agnes-Mariam’s talk yesterday centered upon the work of the organization she heads, Mussalaha (“Reconciliation”), described as “a popular movement in Syria that mediates disputes and organizes ceasefires between opposing forces.” It became clear to me, in hearing her speak, that her peace activism in Syria long preceded the incident in August that nearly brought about US airstrikes; in her talk, she described some of the more memorable incidents in which she and her organization had made a difference. She seems to have a rare ability to maintain communications with all the different sides in this war, not excluding the Al Nusra Front. (I should qualify that: she explicitly stated that the aim of her organization is to promote reconciliation among the various Syrian parties in this war; she does not negotiate with the foreign jihadists who have flocked to the country.) One of her most moving stories concerned a local meeting in (I think) Aleppo between opposing political forces; the meeting was full of mutual recriminations, and nothing was getting done. Then a man, attending the meeting, related the story of the kidnapping of his only son, named Fayyad, 20-years-old. He and his wife tried for months to secure his release. One day, he received a phone call; the voice asked, “would you like to see your son?” The father replied, “Of course, we are ready to do whatever you ask.” The voice replied that, okay, they would bring him. The father and mother were overjoyed, and anticipated meeting their son. Two days later a car drove by their house, very fast; when the parents opened the door, they found a bag containing the remains of their son Fayyad, who had been hacked into pieces. But the point of the story, as Mother Agnes-Mariam told it, was not the heinous crime as such. The man who told the story said to the warring factions that, although the death of his son was a crime without justification, a loss that had taken away his reason for living, and that, if there was anyone there who had good reason for wanting to seek revenge, it was him, he was, nevertheless, there and then, forgiving his enemies, and beseeching them all, for the good of Syria, to forgive each other. This man, as Mother Agnes-Mariam pointed out, was a Sunni Muslim. She said this, pointing out that this kind of reconciliation is open to all, and is the only way forward if Syria is to have a future.
Like a lot of people, I have been much preoccupied over the past year by what is going on in Syria; in general, I see my own government’s policies there as shameful, duplicitous, and motivated more by calculations of geopolitics than by any genuine concern for the people in that country who are suffering and dying. It is easy to become cynical about what is going on, both in Washington and in Syria itself. It is easy to despair, or to be critical. Mother Agnes-Mariam is one courageous woman who, instead of despairing about the situation, is there on the ground actively doing something about it. She is certainly critical about lies that are told to perpetuate the war; yet the focus of her effort is not there, but on the process of reconciliation which is necessary if all the various parties are to live in peace. She is going to be in the United States for the next month, raising support for her ministry; if she plans to speak in your town, I would urge you to go and hear what she has to say.