Archbishop Sebastia Theodosios (Atallah Hanna), 49, is the only Orthodox Christian archbishop from Palestine stationed in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, while all other bishops of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are Greeks. The Israeli authorities had detained him several times, or stopped him at the border, and taken away his passport. Among all Jerusalem clergymen he is the only one who has no privilege of passing through the VIP gate in the airport – because of his nationality. “For the Israeli authorities, I am not a bishop, but rather a Palestinian,” explains his Beatitude. When talking on the phone he says a lot of words you would normally hear from a Muslim: “Alhamdulillah, Insha’Allah, Masha’Allah”. He speaks Arabic, and the Arabic for ‘god’ is Allah, whether you are a Christian or a Muslim.
In this interview, the Beatitude discusses what it entails to be a Palestinian leader in a volatile political context and the significance of the phrase Allahu Akbar for the Christian community. He also speaks directly to the use of Arabic and the phrase that has gained an Islamic connotation following identification with violent extremists.
Do people say Allahu Akbar in church?
Of course. (more…)
In the midst of the pageantry and cultural traditions surrounding Christmas, it is easy to lose sight of the profoundly political ramifications of the birth story of Jesus. In an era of history transitioning between empires and an area of near constant geopolitical turmoil, a baby is born that will alter the course of human history.
Naim Ateek, a Palestinian theologian draws comparison from contemporary political challenges to illustrate this historical reality as he writes in the Christmas Address of the Sabeel Ecumencial Liberation Theology Center (www.sabeel.org),
From a Palestinian world view, there are certain similarities between the political conditions in Palestine during the times of Jesus’ birth and the political situation in Palestine today. There is a flagrant occupation that dominates and oppresses people; and there are words that describe what people go through: fear, insecurity, instability, suffering, grief, despair, and other negative feelings that a repressive empire and an Israeli rightwing government can produce.
That is why the words of the angel to the shepherds in the Christmas story strike a relevant chord, “do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” What constituted good news for the shepherds in first century Palestine and what would constitute good news for our Palestinian people today? It is nothing less than FREEDOM AND PEACE, because both can produce a life of dignity, security, and stability to people.
In the midst of these difficult times, the implication of the Christmas message to oppressed people is basically clear: God knows and sees the suffering of the oppressed and God is doing something not through the people of power but through the birth of a baby who ultimately holds in himself the answer to the human condition of injustice and insecurity; therefore “do not be afraid.” (Christmas Address follows at the link below.)