syrian orthodox church

Syriac Orthodox Church of Saint Mark - Jerusalem, Palestine

Hell is Love?  St Isaac and Gehenna

One popular belief among Christians across many traditions and denominations is that hell is a place where the wicked experience pure punishment and where the love and mercy of God no longer restrains the justice of God.  St Isaac the Syrian (613-700), a bishop and theologian from Nineveh, strongly disagrees with these ideas.  St Isaac emphatically declares to “not call God just.”  Why so? What about 2 Thessalonians 1.6, which states that “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” (NIV)?  For Isaac, it is mercy, not justice, that describes God’s attitude towards humanity.  In fact, he goes so far as to say that “Justice (or rectitude) does not belong to the Christian way of life and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching”.[1]  Some may consider this rhetorically hyperbolic and even theologically dangerous.  Isaac is contrasting a certain view of “justice” with God’s actions towards humanity.  He articulates this point by asking several questions:

“How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I choose to give unto this last even as unto thee. Or is thine eye evil because I am good?’ (Matthew 20:13-15). How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth?”  [2]

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Every afternoon, Father Ayoub Stefan leads prayers at St. Gabriel’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Sodertalje, a hilly, wooded city of factories and apartment buildings about 20 miles southwest of Stockholm.

The slight, bespectacled priest moved here six years ago from Qamishli, a city in northeastern Syria. In the last three years, as civil war has torn apart Father Ayoub’s homeland, it seems like everyone from Qamishli wants to come to Sodertalje.

Many are arriving every day, often after paying thousands of dollars to smugglers. Sweden’s migration board projects that 95,000 people, many of them refugees from Syria, are expected to arrive next year. That would be a record in this country of 10 million people that’s already taken in more refugees, relative to its population, than any other country in Europe.

Sweden’s Tolerance Is Tested By Tide Of Syrian Immigrants

Photo credit: Holly Pickett/Redux/Pulitzer Center

Before the civil war in Syria destroyed  ancient religious sites, and scattered some of the oldest Christian communities in the world,  Jason Hamacher made several trips there, taking photos and recording ancient Sufi and Christian chants.  This project got its start when Hamacher read in a book about  “the world’s oldest Christian music”.  He tracked down the author, William Dalrymple, who told him there were no recordings of the music. And he said, “it’s not a monastery in the desert; it is a Syrian Orthodox church in the middle of the city of Aleppo."  Hamacher ended up staying at that church, a guest of the archbishop, who has since been kidnapped by rebels.
Hamacher is planning a series of albums called Sacred Voices of Syria.  The first, which was released this summer, is called Nawa: Ancient Sufi Invocations and Forgotten Songs from Aleppo.  Hamacher isn’t coming at this from the perspective of a musicologist, or a member of a religious community.  He’s a drummer who’s played in several punk bands in the Washington, DC area, including the group Frodus.  He founded Lost Origin Productions, to distribute for his recordings and photographs. 

Image of Mar Musa Monastery via Lost Origins by Jason Hamacher

Assyrian church in Hesice, Kurdistan/Assyria

Syriac Orthodox Church - Qamislo, Kurdistan/Assyria