Egypt: Coptic priest murdered

February 23, 2011

Disturbing news this morning about the stabbing of a Coptic priest in southern Egypt. From the Associated Press:

ASSIUT, Egypt – A Coptic Christian priest has been killed in southern Egypt, triggering street demonstrations by several thousand Christians.

The priest was found dead in his home. A fellow clergyman, Danoub Thabet, says his body had several stab wounds. He says neighbours reported seeing several masked men leaving the apartment and shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” suggesting the killing was motivated by the divide between Egypt’s Muslims and its minority Coptic community.

About 3,000 protesters scuffled with Muslim shop owners Tuesday night and smashed the windows of a police car in the city, Assiut.

Egypt’s religious tension spiked in January when a suicide bomber killed 21 people outside a Coptic church in the port city of Alexandria. Days of protests followed.

I have transcribed some comments from this morning’s Democracy Now broadcast which touch upon this development, as well as upon the important issue of Egyptian constitutional reform:

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: What’s happening now, the next steps, are the rewriting of the Constitution … not rewriting it, but rewriting several articles. So there’s a few issues with both the mandate and the composition of the committee that the Supreme Council appointed to amend the Constitution. In terms of the composition of the committee, it’s an eight-member panel — it’s all men, so there’s no women on the committee, that’s a problem. It’s headed by Tarek al-Bishry, who was a critic of Mubarak, but a very conservative-leaning legal scholar. It’s also got a member of the Muslim Brotherhood on the panel. So some are very concerned that there’s no women on the panel, that it’s conservative — and that there’s no Copts on the panel. Now hundreds if not thousands of Copts have marched…

Amy Goodman: You mean C-O-P-T, “Copt.”

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Yes, Coptic Christians who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population. They’re calling on — and this is not in the mandate right now — for Article 2 of the Constitution to be removed. Article 2 enshrines that Islamic law forms the basis of jurisprudence in Egypt … so, Sharia law. So, this affects women’s rights, this affects legal rights in a lot of different ways. So they’re arguing about that. What the committee is looking at right now is a lot of these …; the current constitution that we have right now was formed under Anwar Sadat, the president before Mubarak; it was amended three times since then, 1980, 2005, and 2007. The articles that they’re looking at are these latest changes from 2005 and 2007, which really expanded presidential power, consolidated presidential power, made it almost impossible to form an opposition party; you needed something like two-thirds of the People’s Assembly to approve a new party; the People’s Assembly is dominated by Mubarak’s party, so essentially what you’re saying is, you need the ruling party to approve the opposition. Also, presidential term-limits, things like this. So, they’re looking at all of this, and it’s supposed to be coming out soon and there’s going to be a national popular referendum on the changes within two months.

Amy Goodman: I wonder how significant this is: an hour ago AP reported, Sharif, that a Coptic Christian priest … has been killed in southern Egypt, triggering street demonstrations by several thousand Christians. The priest was found dead in his home; a fellow clergyman says his body had several stab wounds; he says several neighbors reported seeing several masked men leaving his apartment, they were shouting “God is great,” Allahu akbar, suggesting the killing was motivated by the divide between Egypt’s Muslims and its minority Coptic community. Who knows if that is true, but this is the latest report.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Well, that’s an ominous development. This divide between Muslims and Christians was something that the Mubarak government really played upon; we saw some church bombings; it’s unclear who did them; but what the pro-democracy movement in Tahrir was very proud of was that they stuck together; you would see when, especially after the attack by the Baltige [?] on Wednesday, any time there was prayer, a lot of the Copts would protect the perimeter while Muslims prayed; they would always chant, “Muslim, Christian: we’re all Egyptian.” You would see people marching, holding with, one holding a Koran, the other holding a Bible, marching together. And so, they believe, and many believe, that this divide was something that was caused by the repression of Mubarak’s government. It was fomented; they played upon it to divide people and to keep them apart. And what was really amazing in Tahrir, and amazing across Egypt, was that it was true democracy playing out in Tahrir; this was what democracy was; if you removed all the lies of the Mubarak government, that the Brotherhood will take over, if you removed all these lies that people hated each other, they managed amazingly to … to force Mubark to step down in the face of so much violence and repression. You know, the government started by throwing out the entire central security apparatus, at them; that didn’t work; they tried removing the police force completely and trying this chaos; and we saw these neighborhood patrols pop up, which was really amazing. I mean, the first day I remember walking home from Tahrir, I’m walking home, it’s completely dark, it’s after curfew, 6 p.m., and you’d see, just, bunches of young men, teens to early thirties, forties, standing there with pipes, some of them armed, talking with each other on cellphones to, you know, the next kind of patrol over, protecting their neighborhood from looters.

When Sharif Abdel Kouddous said this morning that there are no Copts on the panel, this surprised me; it goes against what I had heard and read elsewhere. E.g., Richard Spencer, in an article in the Telegraph, posted February 15th, says:

He [Tarek al-Bishry] has selected a committee made up mainly of judges and politicians, including a judge who is a Coptic Christian, but also a former Muslim Brotherhood MP. There are no women.

If Abdel Kouddous is, in fact, correct in his information that no Copt is actually serving on the constitutional committee, this is indeed a disturbing development; it suggests the possibility that the earlier report was given out falsely, to deflect Western attention. But I would want first to be clear about the fact of a Copt’s being or not being on the committee before speculating any further about motives behind the earlier report. Abdel Kouddous, who just returned to New York after spending the past month in Egypt, is generally very well informed about what is going on inside his country; I would be surprised if he is mistaken on this point.

If Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution is not revised to grant full legal equality to Egypt’s Christian population, the country’s much-celebrated revolution will have been to no purpose. Or, rather, the purposes it will serve may turn out to be quite other than what most of the original demonstrators — and most of us who supported the movement towards democracy in that country — had hoped to see.

The news about the sexual assault upon the American reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square on February 11th, the night of Mubarak’s resignation, is also very disturbing.

God help us.


Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.3

February 18, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 762 A – 764 A.

Chapter Three. That, through every kind of theology, reason progresses by way of “mirrors” and “enigmas.”

The great, divinely-speaking Apostle Paul says:

“We walk now in mirrors and enigmas.”

[2.3.1] 1 Cor 13:12.*

And again:

“We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then also that which is in part shall be done away with.”

[2.3.2] 1 Cor 13:9-10.

And again:

“We walk by faith, and not by sight.”

[2.3.3] 2 Cor 5:7.

The brilliant Basil, who had thoroughly considered these things, says:

“As for the ‘face to face’ [vision] and the perfect knowledge, it is promised that they shall be given in the age to come to those who are worthy; but, for the present, even if someone is a Paul or a Peter, he truly sees those things which he sees, and does not err; nevertheless, he sees through a mirror and in an enigma. But he who now receives with thankfulness that which is in part awaits with brilliant expectation what is perfect in the future.”

[2.3.4] Not yet found.**

And with him also Gregory the Theologian says:

“Wherefore he estimates all knowledge here below as no more than mirrors and enigmas, as based upon little images of the truth.”

[2.3.5] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.20; PG 36, 52 C.

And again, the same author, in his oration Concerning the appointment of bishops:

“But what person is he who can be so lifted up as to attain to the measure of Paul? But, nevertheless, he sees ‘through an enigma,’ and [he says] a time will come when he shall see ‘face to face.'”

[2.3.6] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 20.12; PG 35, 1080 B.

And again, in the same oration:

“How is it that sense perception, while remaining in the same subject, is drawn to that which is outside it? How does mind remain within itself and beget a word in another mind? How, by a word, is a thought conveyed? … If you do not understand any of these things, O man — but perhaps you shall understand them one day, when you have attained what is perfect; for he says, ‘I shall behold the heavens, the works of thy fingers’ (Ps 8:3 LXX), as though conjecturing that those things that are now seen are not the truth, but truth’s images … — how then can you suppose that you have an exact knowledge of God, both of what and of how great he is?”

[2.3.7] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 20.11; PG 35, 1077 C - 1080 A.

And, besides these things, Dionysius the Great says:

“And indeed, in the celebrations of the most holy mysteries, neither our own hierophants, nor those of the tradition of the law, abstain from God-befitting symbols. Indeed, we see even the all-hallowed angels mystically advancing divine things through enigmas; and we see Jesus himself theologizing in parables, and transmitting the divinizing mysteries through the type of a table being spread. For it was fitting, not only that the holy of holies should be preserved undefiled by the multitude, but also that human life, which is at once indivisible and divisible, should be illuminated by divine knowledge in a manner suitable to itself; and that the passionless part of the soul should be devoted to simple and most inward visions of the godlike images, but that its impassioned part should serve, and at the same time strive upwards toward, things most divine, by the pre-arranged representations of symbolic types, since such coverings are, by nature, akin to it.”

[2.3.8] Ps.-Dionysius, Ep. ad Titum, 1; PG 3, 1105 D - 1108 B.

And the divine Maximus in his theological writings:

“The Lord sometimes is absent, and sometimes is present. He is absent with respect to the face-to-face vision; he is present with respect to the vision ‘in a mirror and enigmas.'”

[2.3.9] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum theol. et oecon. centuria II, 57; PG 90, 1149 B.

And again, the same father in his Third Century on Love says:

“We walk by faith, not by sight, and we possess knowledge in mirrors and enigmas. And, for this reason, we need to make these things our urgent business; so that, by our longstanding care for them and our familiar conversation with them, we may make it difficult for anything to deprive us of our habitual possession of the things we are contemplating.”

[2.3.10] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum de charitate centuria III, 69; PG 90, 1037 B-C.

From these things it becomes clear that our soul deals with all of theology in a way that is thoroughly natural to it, deriving impressions of types and concepts from things kindred to itself, things divisible. Whether these impressions are drawn from material formations or, instead, are derived from things which lie, without any [material] covering, solely where these present beauties are visible, they are not the truth itself, but truth’s images. Thus it is fitting, on account of both of these things, that all knowledge that characterizes [the soul] does not go beyond mirrors and enigmas — that is to say, it does not get beyond the soul’s own divisible and imperfect [nature]. But when in fact what is perfect shall come to it, then that thing in it which is in part, and its own divisibility, will be done away with, and it will see face to face; that is, it will see things immaterial immaterially, and things indivisible indivisibly.

* * *


*[On 2.3.1] Kyparissiotes may be citing from memory; his text (in Ottoboniensis gr. 99, fol. 120v) has ἄρτι ἐν ἐσόπτροις καὶ ἐν αἰνίγμασι περιπατοῦμεν. The reader may be more familiar with the translation, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” The word “enigma” comes from a Greek verb which means to hint, to speak in riddles; those connotations should be kept in mind when one reads the current Decade, which largely is concerned with the meaning of the vision of God “through a mirror, in an enigma.”

**[On 2.3.4] Torres states that the citation is from Basil’s oratio de confessione fidei; this title does not correspond exactly to any work of Basil’s that I know of; I checked the sermon De fide (PG 31, 464-472), and did not find the text there.

Grumel on Dvornik

February 16, 2011

Because, in a recent discussion on this blog, a question arose concerning Francis Dvornik’s interpretation of the history of St. Photius, I am here presenting a translation of a review of Dvornik’s book The Photian Schism: History and Legend by Venance Grumel, himself a notable Photian scholar. The review originally appeared in the Revue des études byzantines, vol. 10 (1952), pp. 282-283; I found the text on-line yesterday at the French site Persée, a very useful site which I had not known of previously.

Dvornik (Fr.), The Photian Schism. History and Legend. Cambridge, University Press, 1948. In-8°, xiv-504 pages. Le schisme de Photius, Histoire et Légende, Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf, 1950. In-8°, 662 pages (Unam Sanctam XIX).

The author of this book had already distinguished himself by a most remarkable thesis, Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXe siècle (Paris 1926). A later work, Les Légendes de Constantin et de Méthode vues de Byzance (Prague 1933), laid particular stress upon ninth-century Byzantine and Slavic history and the history of the two great missionaries. It was in the course of this, in treating of these missionaries’ relations with Photius, that Dvornik first brought up the Photian question. He has not ceased investigating this problem; one calls to mind his article published in Byzantion, “Une mystification historique: le second schisme de Photius,”[1] which was followed by many others bearing upon the same topic. What we are presented with in this new book is the outcome of much patient research. The book was long-awaited. Although ready by 1940 to appear in French and to take its place in one of the series of volumes organized by Henri Grégoire, it was delayed by the German invasion. The author brought his manuscript with him to London. It was there translated into English, and it appeared first of all in that language before finally being published in its original language at Paris.

The work is the fruit of extensive research and of a thoroughgoing labor of reflection, aimed at taking up again the Photian problem and thinking through it in a new way. The author’s erudition is considerable. One immediately evident testimony to this is the lengthy list of sources unearthed, of works examined, even of manuscripts consulted.

The author’s conclusions are well known. He hypothesized that the trial of Photius rested upon fake evidence, that Photius was someone misunderstood by historians, an object of slander, and that it was necessary to rehabilitate him. It is this hypothesis which he has endeavored to transform into a positive thesis and an historical certainty.

While recognizing that Photius is not as sinister as he has been depicted in the past, one may well ask oneself whether the author has not gone too far in the contrary direction. The dissertation maintains throughout a tone of special pleading which, in the end, harms the case it means to demonstrate. When one finds that, on every occasion, in every doubtful case, and even in those cases where evidence to the contrary is not wholly lacking, the interpretation given is the one that favors the hero, without any weight placed on the opposite scale, one is left with the impression of a unilateral vision of events, an impression that the proper middle viewpoint has not yet been found. It is not possible in a simple book review to enter very far into the points which demand discussion. I will merely take note here of the most important points upon which the author is far from having given a sufficient demonstration.

The first concerns the origin of the conflict; the author is absolutely unwilling to see Photius as responsible for it. I fail to understand how one can refuse to recognize the cause of the conflict in Photius’s ordination by Gregory Asbestas, the bishop deposed by Ignatius — still less, how one can conceive of presenting this affront as an act of moderation, something which is genuinely hard to swallow. The second point concerns the declaration concerning the Creed, a subject that has engaged my attention more than once.[2] I am indeed informed [in this book] that my proof of that declaration’s inauthenticity is inconclusive, but this has not been shown, and, moreover, no notice is taken of the article which appeared in this journal in 1947, in which I returned to this subject[3]; I would refer the author to it, awaiting his response. I ought nevertheless to reply to the new argument which I did not know of at the time I wrote that article, namely, the testimony of the patriarch Euthymius. It would certainly be a most telling point if the person in question were Euthymius I; but the manuscript is from the fifteenth century, and there is no reason to reject the possibility of an attribution to Euthymius II — quite the contrary, as I shall show hereafter.[4] It must be said that such a possibility seems not to have occurred to Dvornik.

The third and most important question is that which concerns the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Dvornik thinks he can prove that it was abrogated by John VIII. To this end, he makes use of documents transmitted by Yves of Chartres, not taking account of the fact that these fragments originated at the Photian council where the papal documents had been altered. He makes use also of the Western juridical tradition according to which the ecumenicity of this council did not appear until the end of the eleventh century. One should not forget that this council of 869, which produced no definition of faith, was convened solely to decide on matters relating to persons and that, after the Photian question had been settled at the council of 879, there was no reason to bring it up again, and the peace of the Church demanded that it not be. But between this and an abrogation there is quite a stretch. Furthermore, the complete letter from Pope Stephen I to Emperor Basil I (which we presented at the International Congresses of Byzantine Studies of Paris and of Bruxelles) shows clearly that no pope, up to Stephen’s time, had annulled the acts of the Eighth Council.

I shall leave aside, for the time being, the other points which are of lesser importance.

In spite of the disagreements which separate me from Francis Dvornik, I highly appreciate the value of his book, which I consider the most important work on the Photian schism to have appeared since Hergenröther and as essential reading for anyone who wishes to study this great historical problem.

* * *

[1] Byzantion, 8 (1933), 301-325.

[2] One article Grumel may be referring to is his “Le «Filioque» au Concile photien de 879-880 et le témoignage de Michel d’Anchialos,” Échos d’Orient 29 (1930), 257-264; another, perhaps, is his “Y eut-il un second schisme de Photius?” Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 22 (1933), 432-457.

[3] A reference to V. Grumel, “Photius et l’addition du Filioque au symbole de Nicée-Constantinople,” REB 5 (1947), 218-234.

[4] Euthymius I served as Patriarch of Constantinople from the year 908 to 911; Euthymius II, from 1410 to 1416. I do not know to which later study Grumel is here referring.

Goodbye, Pharaoh

February 12, 2011

the minds of the mute
are learning to speak
the tongues that were tied
begin to move freely
a people that sat
for thirty odd years
now learns to stand up
and no one can really
now tell them
they are not
their own

a Pharaoh had wanted
his own dynasty
his horse and his riders
are thrown in the sea

life circulates here
at levels unknown
as in the deep desert
where all appears death
the seeds of the future
are quietly sown
they fly through the land
at the storm’s mighty breath

the past is the womb
in which the world grows
each new generation
adds layers of soil
enriched with new life
when it turns to the light
and bearing sweet fruit
through its love, truth, and toil

Kyparissiotes manuscript

February 10, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, as I was preparing to go to the library, I looked out my window and saw a UPS truck stop across the street. Usually when this happens, the UPS man delivers a package to my neighbor’s house; but, on this occasion, he crossed the street and walked up my driveway. I went to the front door, expecting the doorbell to ring; it did not, and I was puzzled. I opened the door: no package, and no delivery man. I speculated that the delivery man had perhaps gone to the wrong house and, realizing this, had gone away. Having no way to check this supposition, I put the question out of my mind, and prepared to leave as planned. I opened the garage door, stepped outside, and brought in the mail. As I walked back to the house, I noticed leaning up against the wall beside the garage door a standard 9½ by 13 inch envelope. (Apparently the delivery man did not trust my front steps, although I had worked to clear the ice off of them earlier this week.) Inspecting it, I found that it was from the Vatican Library. I went inside, shut the garage door, went upstairs and opened the envelope. It contained another envelope, a brown, manila one, in which was found a CD-ROM copy of the manuscript Ottoboniensis graecus 99, containing the complete Greek text of John Kyparissiotes’ Decades; I had ordered this from the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana a few weeks ago. With great expectation, I put it onto my computer and began to read it. The Greek hand is very fluid and legible. Inside, on the initial page of the manuscript, there is an inscription in Latin:

Ex codicibus Joannis Angeli
Ducis ab Altaemps
ex Graeco manuscripte

There may be a small horizontal line above the last two letters of “Altaemps,” which would indicate that that word is an abbreviation for something (Duke from High Emp…?). At the risk of publicly exhibiting my ignorance, I confess that am unsure who the duke John Angelus (or, more likely, John Angelos Doukas) was; if some kind reader can enlighten me upon that point, I would appreciate the information. (No doubt I should take a look at a book by Demetrios Polemis titled The Doukai: A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography [London 1968], as well as at the Prosopographische Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit.) It is possible that the words ab Altaemps ex Graeco manuscripte indicate that the copy was written out by hand by a scribe from the All-Temps Agency. But I consider this a highly remote possibility.

The earlier part of this volume consists of a series of short ascetic writings by Dorotheus of Gaza. The latter half appears to be devoted entirely to Kyparissiotes’ Decades.

I had been hunting about for the Greek text of the Decades for a number of years; my inability to find a single copy of Vasileios Dentakes’ edition of the work (Ἰωάννου τοῦ Κυπαρισσιώτου, τῶν Θεολογικῶν ῾Ρήσεων Στοιχειώδης Ἔκθεσις. Τὸ κείμενον [μετὰ τῆς λατινικῆς μεταφράσεως τοῦ Franciscus Turrianus] νῦν τὸ πρῶτον ἐκδιδόμενον [Editio princeps]. Athens 1982) led me finally to put in an order for the original manuscript last month. Its arrival yesterday was therefore a very satisfying occurrence; I shall now be able to see what Kyparissiotes says in his actual words, and not merely through the lens of Francesco Torres’s Latin translation. At some point soon, I will go back over the translations already placed on-line and check them against the Greek.

Anyway, I am now, as it seems, the possessor of the only copy of the Greek text of John Kyparissiotes’ Decades in the Western hemisphere. Not that this is a distinction eagerly sought after by others, or even one which, in the larger scheme of things, conveys very much merit. Yet I hope that it is something I may put to good use, and from which others may derive both profit and edification.

Copts fear Islamic drift

February 9, 2011

Translated from the article, “I copti temono la deriva islamica,” posted earlier today on the website Oriente Cristiano.

ALEXANDRIA. From our correspondent

The record of that tragic night is still seen on the facade of the Church of the Saints, and the faces of the faithful turn aside from it while leaving mass. All depart in a hurry; away from the walls that are still chipped, from the partly-mutilated statue of the Madonna, from the danger that lurks around every corner. The entrance is blocked by a gate. Inside the courtyard there is an ambulance; “We do not want terrorists to use one for another massacre,” confides a guardian. Before the entry to the church there is a large poster depicting Jesus Christ, with a golden crown on his head and the faces of 23 people; they are the 24 victims of the New Year’s Eve massacre, when a car bomb struck the faithful as they left mass. It was the fiercest of the many attacks against the Copts. To the cry of “down with Mubarak,” thousands of young Copts took to the streets and clashed with police. They accused the president of having failed to protect them; someone called him complicit in the massacre.

It’s been only a month, and now the Christians of Alexandria are caught in a dilemma: participate in the revolt, and demand an end to a regime that has lasted 30 years, or stay home, as called for by their Pope Shenouda III, hoping that the president acts. The very thought that the Muslim Brotherhood could take over is seen as a nightmare. Faced with such a threat, the Copts, 10% of the population, are paralyzed. Aware that they may have to pay a heavy price for having not joined the rebellion (at least 50 people died here).

The archbishops and priests are impenetrable. The pope has forbidden communication with the media. The priest of the Church of the Saints mutters a few words, then disappears. A script that is repeated in five other churches. Ramy, 25, warden of the Church of the Saints, admits: “I am not attending the event. None of us did. Mubarak’s worst is better than the best of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It’s Sunday; a few kilometers away a huge event is taking place; thousands of people are shouting slogans against Mubarak. The climate, however, is different from that of Cairo’s joyous Tahrir Square. Here the site of the event, which continued yesterday but with fewer protesters, is the ancient Ibrahim mosque. It is easy to guess who holds the reins of the revolt: the Muslim Brotherhood, who have created here their stronghold. “This is the people’s revolution; we are organizing jointly with the April 6 movement and other organizations. We are a single entity,” explains Saber Abu el-Fotouh, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman and former member of parliament. We look for Christians, in vain. In front of the mosque, members of the Brotherhood frisk us several times. “We are and will be respectful of our Coptic brothers,” said Medhat al-Hadad, director of the Brotherhood, from his office. “In two or three months Mubarak will be gone. We will organize free elections. We hope to get 25-35% of the seats. If we are in the government we will allow everyone freedom to profess their faith.”

Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.2

February 5, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 761B – 762A.

Chapter Two. That demonstrative theology, too, though it appears to be without any veil, proceeds by way of types formed for our sake.

The great Dionysius, in his Letter to Titus, says:

That such [coverings] are congenial to our nature is declared also by those who, when they hear theology clearly and without symbols, weave in themselves a sort of type, which conducts people to the conception of the aforesaid theology. But also the very fashioning of the visible universe sets forth the invisible things of Almighty God, as says both Paul and the infallible Word.

[2.2.1] Dionysius, Ep. ad Titum 9, 1-2; PG 3, 1108 A-B.

And the other Dionysius, in expounding these things, says that those who have heard the theology that is manifest and unveiled form, by their thought, types, which help those who hear them to understand.

[2.2.2] Dionysius of Alexandria (not found).

From these things what was said earlier becomes clear, that even those things which are said to us by God in Holy Scripture plainly and without covering veils are types and images, despite the fact that they are spoken affirmatively in a demonstrative way.