Sunday, February 25, 2018, at the Melkite Catholic Church in Ibillin,


we celebrated the first Sunday in lent.  It was also a special service to commemorate the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787 in Nicaea, present day Iznik, Turkey).  According to the article in Wikipedia, it is “recognized as the last of the seven ecumenical councils by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.  In addition, it is also recognized by the Old Catholics and others.

“Old Catholic Church “term originally used from the 1850s by groups which had separated from the Roman Catholic Church over certain doctrines primarily concerned with papal authority.  These churches are not in full communion with  the Roman Catholic Church.  Member churches of the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches are in full communion with the Anglican Communion, and some are members of the World Council of Churches.” Wikipedia under Old Catholic Church.

The purpose of the council was “to restore the use and veneration of icons (or, holy images), which had been suppressed by imperial edict inside the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Leo III (717-741).  “In the early 8th century AD, iconoclasm, a movement opposed to the veneration of icons, gained acceptance in the Byzantine court. In 726, despite the protests of St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Emperor Leo III (who had forced the emperor to abdicate and himself assumed the throne in 717 immediately before the great siege) issued his first edict against the veneration of images and their exhibition in public places.” (Wikepdia, John of Damascus)  “All agree that John of Damascus undertook a spirited defence of holy images in three separate publications. The earliest of these works, his “Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images”, secured his reputation. He not only attacked the Byzantine emperor, but adopted a simplified style that allowed the controversy to be followed by the common people, stirring rebellion among the iconoclasts. Decades after his death, John’s writings would play an important role during the Second Council of Nicaea (787), which convened to settle the icon dispute.”(same Wikepdia article)

“Many Protestants follow the French reformer John Calvin in rejecting the canons of the council for what they believe was the promotion of idolatry. He rejected the distinction between veneration (douleia, proskynesis) and adoration (latreia) as unbiblical “sophistry” and condemns even the decorative use of images.[8]  . . . .  Calvin does not engage the apologetic arguments of John of Damascus or Theodore the Studite, apparently because he is unaware of them.” (Council of Nicaea Wikipedia article)

As we participate in the Melkite Catholic Church in Ibillin and its iconostasis and icons on the walls, the Greek Orthodox Church also in Ibillin, and its iconostasis and icons on the walls, and take visitors to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount on the campus of the Mar Elias Schools and its magnificent iconostasis and the icons of the sermon on the mount on the overhang of the balcony in the sanctuary, we become aware of a major difference between protestant churches and eastern churches.  As I have conversations with Bishara, a member of the Obeid family, with his PhD from the Catholic Universities in Rome on Arab theologians from the 11th and 12th centuries, I become aware of my lack of knowledge of the rich history and tradition of the Eastern Churches.  Since Paul traveled westward and his letters are included in the New Testament, we are more familiar with western churches and their development.

Tonight, we also celebrated the anniversary of the elevation of Abuna Elias Chacour to the position of Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church in Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and all the Galilee.  He was first made Archbishop on February 25, 2006.  Badia and others worked hard to prepare a dinner for about 50 people, including fresh whole fish.  Iman bought and brought the fresh fish to the kitchen the morning of the dinner, and Badia cleaned and prepared them for cooking that night.

Guests arrived and were seated

and the first part of dinner began.   The fish were scored (see difference between fish before and after cooking, slashes across the fish) and cooked after dinner began, the cooking taking place on the roof of the guest house using deep fat fryers brought by Iman, the owner of the kiosk across the playground from the elementary school (the guest house is the top floor of the elementary school).

We were able to fry 10 fish at a time.  Iman brought them down and served them after starting the next set of 10 fish.  When I finally had a chance to sit down and eat, the meal as a whole was very good, the fish excellent tender white flesh.

After dinner, the Archbishop spoke

and more pictures followed, below: Victor Rohana, who heads up the middle school, and Elias Abu Ghanima, the director of the high school; and Elias AG and the Archbishop.

The Learning Center (an update).

The Learning Center has been a project for the Pilgrims of Ibillin for several years.  The Bridge Building, so named for the bridge that provides access to the top floor,


has four floors, only one of which has been used for many years.  We (speaking as a board member of the Pilgrims of Ibillin) explored the idea of turning the top three floors into a center where learning, in addition to and, in some cases different from what students learned in the Mar Elias schools, could take place.  A major issue was the cost of refurbishing the rooms in the Bridge Building.  Pilgrims of Ibillin (USA), Desktops for Peace and Ashray (UK) provided the necessary funding and work had began the last time we were here in January of 2016.  The Learning Center opened in the Fall of 2017.  The Director of the Learning Center is Badia Ghabress.  She is helped by Assim, who was the Director of the High School before Elias Abu Ghanima became director in the 2102-2013 school year.

Since the Learning Center began to offer classes, they have offered 13 different math classes, grades 5 through 9, to 99 students; 12 different English classes, grades 1 through 9, to 80 students; a Zumba class, grades 1 through 5, to 6 students; a 3D printing, grades 4 through 6, to 7 students; a correct Arabic writing class, grades 3 through 8, to 20 students (if you look at good Arabic writing, it looks like calligraphy); 7 classes in Hebrew, grades 5 through 9, to 95 students;  a class in Theater, grades 5 through 7, 12 students; a Psychometric preparation course, grades 11 and 12, 25 students (the Psychometric is a test like our S.A.T. test, the score on which has a considerable impact on University admission and standing); remedial teaching, often one on one, grades 2 through 4, 37 students; preparation for the gifted exam, grade 3, 22 students (I will write about the Gifted and Talented Program later in this blog); preparation for math exam, grade 2, 11 students; preparation for math exam, grade 3, 4 students; and a class for learning the Dabka — traditional dance, grades 4 through 9, 10 students.

These class have been offered during the 2017-2018 school year.  Some have completed, others in progress, and other just starting.  More will be offered throughout this year.  Sorry for such detail, but this is a very exciting new happening at the Mar Elias Schools, one that will only grow, we hope.