Friday, December 26, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Pictured to the right is a professor in Church History at the seminary, The Rev. Wageeb, who led the seminar on how to access resources on line from the United States. The seminary subscribes to a service called "ATLA" (the American Theological Library Association), which offers its users a way to review and download resources from hundreds on valuable periodicals produced over the last several years. It will be too costly for this or any seminary to order all of these and to store them. The Rev. Wageeb, who graduated from the master's program several years ago, is presently teaching at ETSC, and is pursuing his doctoral degree at the University of Birmingham in England. It is an important goal of the seminary to provide for the study of its Egyptian teachers aboard, so they can increase in their scholarship and teaching ability. The Presbyterian Church in America shares an objective with The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to train indigenous leaders and scholars so that they can assume more responsibility for the ministry of their churches. Missionaries from the United States seek to aid in this development and in effect want "to work themselves out of a job". We also will welcome the contributions to be made in the future by "non-western" scholars. The Rev, soon to be Doctor Wageeb, is one of these.
Hope all are well. Will write again soon.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
classes will run until late December. Professor deWit is teaching a course on Isaiah, and I am teaching two classes, Christianity in the Middle East - III (1800 to the present) and a course which helps students with their research and in writing a dissertation during their second year. I will let you know soon what their topics will be.
In November and December we will welcome back a professor from Norway, Dr. Jan Opsal. He will bring some students with him and teach a course entitled: "Sharing the Same Prophets, Men in the Muslim and Christian Scriptures". It will examine the ways that five men, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, are portrayed in the Qur'an and Hadith, and in the Christian Bible. It should be as interesting and stimulating as the one he taught last January on the women of our traditions. I am also looking forward to teaching a class in January entitled: "Principles of Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics) in the 20th century". This will include a study of feminist interpretations, interpretations from Latin America "liberation" scholars, and what has come to be called: "Post-Colonial Hermeneutics", the writings of Middle Eastern, African and Asian Biblical scholars, who, while acknowledging their debt to European and American teachers, are developing their own "contextual" interpretations. Should be quite a challenge to teach.
The second picture shows the participants in the seminary retreat, which was held the week before school started. Its purposes were: to welcome new students, to renew friendship with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students, and to hear
about the summer practical experiences they had. In addition to the 4 years of study, divinity students at ETSC work each summer in a field assignment, and are also required to do one year of internship after graduation before being eligible for ordination in the Presbyterian Synod of the Nile. There is a great need here for pastor/developers, particularly in the rural ares where the Synod has land and buildings and small communities of faith, but no ordained leaders. I hope to be able to visit some of these ministry sites during this school year.
That is all for now. Hope you are well. Blessings, Roger Rogahn
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I have become more fascinated by the art of all cultures in these last few years, and coming to Egypt exposed me to some of the treasures from this place. In a visit to the Egyptian Museum shortly after my arrival I came across a small section devoted to portrait-paintings from the Greco-Roman period. Thus begins my story. The first picture is not from Cairo, but of a fresco now in Naples which comes from the ruins of Pompeii. Few of these still exist due to the ravages of time and tragedy. This one gives us a glance into the life of a simple baker family, their appearance and their dress. Note how the couple faces us and how prominent the eyes are depicted. They seem to be looking at us, or maybe a little beyond us. Fresco painting was popular for walls and ceiling. It involved mixing the pigment of the paint powder with the wet plaster as it was being applied. It remains a method in many parts of the world. I remember being fascinated with the frescos of Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists of the 20th century.
Another method employed from ancient times to depict images was through mosaics, the insertion of many tiny painted tiles onto a ceiling, wall or floor surface. These often retained their color for centuries because they had been baked into the surface. The sheen remains. An example of this is from the entrance to a Coptic Church of St. Mina, on the outskirts of Cairo. Some friends and I were there to witness a Coptic wedding. The mosaic of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus seemed to sparkle in the later afternoon sun.
Another method of portrait painting which was very popular is the Greco-Roman and early Christian period in Egypt evolved from the wooden masks which were put in the coffins of the Egyptian pharoahs and other nobility from ancient times. This method, called "encaustic painting" involved applying the paint with hot wax to a wooden surface. It allowed the details to remain rich and vibrant over the centuries. Many of these masks, uncovered by treasure seekers from the West as early as 1615, became very popular in Europe during the 19th century. Again, the gaze or stare of the woman is a very striking feature of the painting. How she appeared in life was to be remembered as this "mask" was placed on her body in the tomb.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Many topics were covered:
- the opening of a distance learning center in southern Egypt, where there has been significant
growth in the past several years. The seminary wants
to be more available to the pastors and lay leaders in their ministries and to become even more sensitive to the challenges of parish ministry in the 21st century.
- a review of the curriculum and a standarization of requirments for all seminary courses in the program to train pastors (i.e. how much reading is required, how many papers, etc.). This is particularly important because the seminary employs several part-time teachers and all need to be on "the same page".
- the faculty includes mostly Egyptian teachers and is supplement by teachers and other staff from North
Americans, who received their financial support from the Presbyterians and Mennonite communities world-wide. Dr. Darren Kennedy has just been awarded his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and his spouse Elizabeth is writing her thesis at the same school. She will return to teaching Hebrew at the seminary this fall. Dr. Dustin Elingston teaches New Testament courses. The Rev. Brice Rogers heads the Development Department at the Seminary. (The Seminary still receives the majority of its financial support from ouside of Egypt, but this is changing as the visits by seminary personnel to Presbyterian churches in Egypt encourage each congregation to have a "Seminary Sunday", and receive an offering to support its work. Ms. Elaine Pequegnat, a Canadian, teaches English at the Seminary.
All are deeply committed to their ministry. Classes begin the last week in September.
The seminary community held its own version of the Olympics, which included water sports and track events.
(I placed last in the competition in the water balloon
toss). It was nice to have many of the families of the faculty be with us for the five days of the retreat. It was held in a Christian community, away from the traffic, the noise, and the smoggy skies of Cairo. Now it is back to work, preparing classes for the fall, dealing with registration issues, (it looks like we we be receiving at least six new students, including a visiting student from Norway - I am still waiting for the TOEFL - "english competency test" for others - a score of 500 is required), and the opportunity to welcome a new Biblical scholar from the Netherlands.
But more about that in my next report which should come about the end of this month. Stay well and cool.
Thank you for your support and prayers. In Christ, Roger Rogahn
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Briefly, here is some information about them and their work:
Daniel Amum (at the far left) is a pastor from the Sudan who has written an analysis of the concept of affliction (sufferings) in St. Paul, particularly in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He has developed this so that as he returns to his Christian community in that African country still so involved in turmoil and violence he can lead his people in their faith journeys. He has written how Paul accepts suffering for Christ, and that this has been an essential part of his ministry. Daniel writes that the Christians in the Sudan have also grown in numbers and in faith during their time of tribulation.
Nashat Habi, to the right of Daniel with the dark glasses, has written abou the development and use of the "Van Dyke" Bible, an Arabic translation of the Bible done by a 19th century missionary. It is currently in use among most Christian groups in Egypt. Nashat looks at the reasons for a new translation to be developed today, using the Biblical texts in Hebrew and Greek which were not available to Van Dyke and up-dating the Arabic (since this language too has undergone significant changes in the last 150 years). Nashat works with the Bible Society of Egypt and his dissertation will help that organization in its study of the issue of a new translation.
To Nashat's left is Magdy Rida, who has worked many years as an engineer in Egypt, and has returned to the seminary to study. His topic is the study of the influence of the Evangelicals who have come to Egypt since the mid 19th century on the Egyptian Coptic Church, the church which has been the community of Christian witness here from the beginning. He shows how some positive efforts, like the Sunday school movement, have opened the Orthodox Church to a more ecumenical world view, and also provided current church leaders with the inspiration to write literature using more Biblical texts for their community. Though Evangelicals and the Coptic Church are separate identities here, they work together on many projects.
Sungmin Cho has completed her dissertation on the history and disappearance of the Nubian Church, (the area south of Egypt which for many centuries provided a stronghold for Christian communities). She cites several reasons for this, the most important being that the churches there never developed a truly indigenous expression which touched the hearts of the common people. After graduation she plans to serve as a Korean missionary in Upper Egypt.
That's all for now. The next blog will feature pictures of the graduation of students preparing for ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church of the Nile. Blessings, Roger
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The entire area seves as a gathering place for Coptic people. Here, visible signs tell the Good News of Jesus, where in the public spaces of Cairo this would not be possible. Reliefs have been carved into the hillsides and there are chapels devoted to St. Anthony (the father of Egyptian monasticism) and other holy men. The picture to the left shows a small chapel dedicated to the Ascension depicted in a mosaic on the dome. On the hillside behind is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem which has the inscription underneath: "Blessed is he who comes....Jesus, command your disciples to be silent....if so, then the stones themselves would cry out!" There is an irony here - in this place where Christians can "display" their message openly - that the stones are called upon to help proclaim the Lord's coming.
This Sunday was set aside for baptisms and about 100 families had come to have their children become part of Christ's Church. One mother proudly held up her son (and hid behind him?) asking me to take a picture. Two things are interesting in this. You would normally not see women in public dressed in bright colors and without veils. But here in this worship center this is possible. Second, you would not normally see a display of the cross in public, but again since this is an area set aside for Christians to gather it is possible. One sign of the vitality of the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt. More on the practice of infant baptism and the impact of the "evangelicals" from the United States in a later blog. Peace and Justice, Roger
(I have formally signed on for another year at the seminary. Will be in the Los Angeles area late June through late July if you would like me to speak at your church. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Monday, April 7, 2008
This is a copy of a painting I purchased at the monastery, by the Spanish artist "El Greco". The monastery is small in comparison to the mountains which surround it, the center one being Mt. Sinai. Together with the students and faculty of the seminary, I arose early one morning (about 2:00 a.m.) and ascended the four and one half miles to the top (about 4,000 feet above), to watch the sun come up. We were not alone. Many others came, (probably a few thousand) from all parts of the world to be there, some making part of the ascent by camel. It is truly an example of a "multitude of saints" from many nations, gathered in one place. (It was also quite a traffic jam, particularly on the way down as people, tired from lack of sleep and the exertion, vied for space on the narrow, steep pathways. Fortunately, everyone arrived at the bottom safely.
I very much enjoyed sharing this informal time with the students and some faculty, and we reflected on the significance of these places. I shared that El Greco had added what seem to be faces on the mountains, and also crafted these to resemble human forms to remind us of those who had also been in this place, and appear to be watching over us, and that the same God who was present before in this place is present with us on our journeys through life.
Peace and Justice, Roger
Monday, March 24, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
stations have replayed many times the highlites of the game and of the celebrations that followed. All Egypt were enthusiasts, fans, in a nice moment of national pride.
To the right is a poster which catches that spirit.
In the class I am teaching in Christianity from the time of Islam's beginnings until 1900, we are investigating what it is to be a "fan", and the differences between being a "fan", devoted to one's faith and committed to its principles, and being a "fanatic", going to extremes in one's actions to demonstrate one's allegiance to these truths. Sometimes in today's world we only associate this later concept of "being a fanatic" with the violent actions and destructive terrorism perpetrated by our "enemies" upon innocent victims. There has certainly been an abundance of such acts, most notably the terrible destruction of human life on September 11, 2001, and other acts of terrorism in this century, and these are to be deplored.
However, to gain a wider historical perspective on religion and violence, we are using a book recently written by Michael Gaddis: "There is no Crime for Those Who have Christ, Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire" to examine the roots and the expressions of coercive force within Christian communities, as well as those used by their enemies against them. From the writings of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who supported actions by the state to protect Christian truth and unity ("compel the people to come in"), to the violence actions of Christians (often monks) convinced they were acting out God's will in the destructive of property and lives of pagans and Jews, and even other Christians, we are studying the "dark" side of our own tradition and how we have treated our "enemies".
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (described earlier) was once destroyed by a "fanatical" Muslim caliph of Egypt (al-Hakim of the Fatamid dynasty) in 1009, and though it was rebuilt soon afterwards and again open to Christian pilgrims, this act became one of the major rallying cries for the Christian crusades in the Middle Ages. What is not often noted is that when the Crusader armies conquered the holy city, they put to the sword all peoples living there, Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
A Muslim leader from Egyptian, the Sultan Salad ad-Din, is still celebrated today as a local heroe led the counterattack, and finally expelled the "Franks" (as the western Christians were then called) from the region. He fought hard to expel the invaders.
What is not often mentioned is that within Egypt he pursued a policy of relative peaceful co-existence with the Coptic Christian community. The monument pictured on the right is from that period of history here in Cairo. It is characteristic of much of Islamic architecture, and suggests one of the central concept of "Islam" or "Dar al Islam - the place where God is obeyed and peace reigns". The building incorporates many different patterns and geometric designs and yet for me forms a beautiful, compeling, whole structure, with a sense of peaceful harmony among its diverse elements. I believe that this is the aim and desire of the vast majority of Muslims as well as Christians in this place, to be fans of, that is, devoted to their own faith, while respectful of and committed to living in harmony with others. This building is a nice image from the past of that desire.There are presently many acts of violence by the few in this world, which create fear in us, and there will probably be acts of violence in the future which will try to shape our actions and policies toward others. But I want to close this section with the aims of the institute which Dr. Hans Kung heads (the Global Ethic Foundation), which are helping to shape the theme of the class I am teaching:
No peace among the nations
without peace among the religions.
No peace among the religions
without dialogue between the religions.
No dialogue between the religions
without investigations of the foundations of the religions.
Peace and justice. Roger February, 25, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Some estimates place the number of Coptic Christian in this predominately Muslim country at about 10% of the population. In Cairo, they are clustered around the cathedral (a short walking distance from the seminary where I serve). The picture to the right is of a portion of the youth choir which sang for the people assembled (I would estimate the number was about 800 present). Their "pope" is a very charismatic leader and we could see this in the way the congregation responded to him. There was a need for security guards. mostly to handle the press of those who wished to get close to him. He took time to greet each of the choir members personally and to bless the small children who were brought to him.
The first part of his audience was to answer questions that had been submitted to him. The questions ranged from the meaning of St. Valentine's day (He answered that Christians do not set aside only one day for loving others) to the possibility of a divorse (not permitted) or an abortion, which the husband wanted, ("If the man is intelligent to help produce a child, he should be responsible enough to raise the child".)
He also touched on the connection of the Coptic Church to "evangelical" practices. He took several minutes to teach why his church practices full emersion in baptism (Part of this is to symbolized the dynamic of moving from death to new life), and to counsel a couple where the wife is evangelical that the children should be raised to participate in the litutgical life and devotional life of the church, including the observance of saints' days and periods of fasting. And, I would say that all of his instruction was gentle and filled with humor and humanity.
His homily talked about the importance of discipline and dedication in this season. He particularly talked to and about the clergy and the teachers of youth taking their responsibilities seriously in how they prepare the congregations for Lent and Easter and how they should frequently visit the people in their homes to encourage and to exhort them in the Christian life. In my class on the history of Christianity since the coming of Islam, there are many examples of bishops who were less than who they were called to be, but clearly this leader lives out his calling in a humble and loving way. Peace, as you continue your Lenten journey.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Many, many, many years ago when I was doing my undergraduate work at Pomona College in Claremont, California, this book was part of the reading list for a religion course. "What Contemporary Theologians are Thinking." Some 'smart' collegian had changed the punctuation so that it read: "What! Contemporary Theologians are Thinking?"
We are beginning the spring term at the seminary and I am teaching a reading class on Middle Easter Christianity after the Rise of Islam. One of the book I am having the students read is a part of the new series called: "A People's History of Christianity"which focuses beyond the saints, bishops, and theologians of traditional history. There are plenty of these figures for us to study, (the religious controvesies, the polemics against one's enemies, etc.), but I believe that it is important to consider "what the common people were thinking about religion".
What is it that we "common people" think about in this season of Lent, and how does it relate to our Christian faith and life? The first three chapters of the People's History series on "Byzantine Christianity" suggest some themes.
The first is entitled: "Lay Piety in the Sermons of John Chrysostom" and focuses on the ways that the Christian message calls us all to consider how our lives are to be lived in response to God's will, and what amendment and transformation is called for. Not a bad Lenten exercise, whether it comes from the stirring of one's conscience or the preaching of God's Word. The second is entitled: "The Cult of the Martyrs and the Cappadocian Fathers" and discusses the ways in which the Church sought to regularize and shape the local piety of the faithful. People turned to the local shrines and the popular saints hoping to obtain all sorts of benefits from a gracious God, anything from the repair of hernia to the successful conclusion to a business venture. To believe that in God's love, one will receive "good things" was central and acted out in those pilgrimages and visits to "holy" places. (How is it with us?) The third chapter, entitled: "Romanos and the Night Vigil in the Sixth Century, begins with this marvellous quote by Arundhati Roy:
"The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably....They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't." (p. 59)
These third themes:
A time to examine our lives in relations to God's Word
A moment to anticipate the "goodness" of God in our lives - and
An opportunity again to hear and to become part of the "Greatest
can, I pray, help us on our Lenten journey. Peace, Roger
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Monday, January 7, 2008
The picture above is of two of the most important places, the "Dome of the Rock" for Muslims because it recalls the place where the prophet Mohammad was carried to and from heaven in a vision, and for Jews because the wall beneath this plateau is the one remaining part of the original temple complex build by Solomon and restored by Herod. The blue and white flag of the state of Israel announces to all that Israel controls the city now and has for forty years, but allows access by Muslims and Christians to their holy places.
I also visit Bethlehem for a concert by two choirs from Illinois who sang carrols at the Lutheran "Christmas" Church there. The Rev. Julie Rowe was my guide and as we road the bus from the Israeli controlled territory to the west bank area controlled by the Palestinians we were confrounted with a tall concrete wall. On it someone has written: "Ich bin ein Berliner", recalling another wall that divided peoples. Julie had many stories about the building of a wall between territory that Israel seeks to incorporate, land which Palestinian Arabs and Christians own and wish to continue farming. The Israeli argument is that this is for their security. However, by preventing the movement of Arab Palestinians to their means of livelihood and moving settlers on to this land, the effect is to "appropriate" this land. You can learn more about this by searching out Julie's web pages and information about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
I dined with Pastor Mark Holman and his family following the worship service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, which is located close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which I will discuss in my next blog. The second picture was taken from the grounds of the Augusta Victoria Hospital and looks out toward the Dead Sea. He had taken me there and pointed out that the walls being constructed by the Israelis often separate the places where arabs live from where they work. I have tried to show this by two black arrows. I show this so that you will be aware of some of the dynamics going on. Our Lutheran Church is there to help us to do just that (to help us understand). More later. Happy Epiphany!