June 16, 2013.
We will gather together for our shared Badaliya and Islands of Peace Institute Prayer on Sunday, June 16, 2013 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Pauls Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Interfaith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.
As we meet together for the final gathering before our summer break, the Gospel readings for today provide a rich opportunity to reflect together on the nature of our shared belief in the forgiveness of our human sinfulness, in the Resurrection and in the final Judgement.
In the Gospel according to Luke Jesus is invited to dinner at the house of a Pharisee. The Gospel describes how a woman who was known to be a great sinner in the town came in with an alabaster jar of anointment and as her tears fell on the feet of Jesus she proceeded to wipe them away with her hair, anointing his feet with the oil and kissing them. When the Pharisee questions Jesus about her he tells a parable about forgiveness ending by stating that one who is pardoned for the greater sin or debt has more love than one who is not. He states that her many sins must have been forgiven her or she would not have shown such great love towards him. He then turns to her and says, "Your faith has saved you, go in peace.....After this he made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. With him went the twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna and several others who provided for them out of their own resources." (Luke 7:36-8:3) Some traditions identify the woman who washed his feet with her tears as Mary Magdalene.
In his life long search for ways to bring Muslims and Christians and ultimately all Abrahamic faith traditions together, Louis Massignon was inspired to research sources for the legends and devotions that survived the centuries and became part of different cultures throughout the world. He was particularly drawn to a story about seven Christian saints that is lost to the Western churches but still honored in the Russian Orthodox Church. It is also found in Surah 18 in the Qur'an and called ahl al-Kahf, the people of the cave. The story takes place in the city of Ephesus, known as Selçuk in modern day Turkey, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius in the year 257. (see my Dialogues with Saints and Mystics, Ch.8)
The story happens during the Roman persecution of the Christians and tells of seven young men who hide in a cave. They fall asleep and on awakening send one of them into the town to buy bread. There it is discovered that the coins he offers for payment are three hundred years old. This is a story of Resurrection, a belief that is shared by both Christians and Muslims. Massignon very closely studied the sources for this legend both in Turkey and elsewhere. Ephesus is the place where the Virgin Mary was said to have lived her last years, taken there by the Apostle John after she is given into his care by Jesus from the Cross. John was now her "son" and she his "mother." It was here in Ephesus that the Church declared the Virgin Mary as theotokos, Mother of God, and where the original sepulchre of Mary Magdalene, the first to witness the Resurrection of Christ, lies adjacent to the burial place of the seven young men to this day. Massignon ties together "the triple mystery of Ephesus," the marian mystery that declared the Virgin Mary the Mother of God, and the mystery of Saint John, whose role of substitute' was lived out here, and finally Mary Magdalene's witness of the Resurrection. Massignon wrote that the Magdalene "remains a guide for us towards the final Judgement." (EM 1, p.321-335 and p.293-295.)
In his research Massignon found Islamic places dedicated to the Seven Sleepers in Algeria, Egypt, Turkey and Morooco and even some in Western Europe but he was most surprised to find a chapel in a small hamlet in Brittany, France dedicated to these seven saints. In their annual pigrimage, called a Pardon, a ritual of forgiveness, he translated the ancient Breton story that was read each year and discovered it to be the story as it is found in the Qur'an of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. With the permission of the local Bishop the annual Pardon added the Muslim story to their pilgrimage in 1954 and both Muslims and Christians come together every year to celebrate this shared story of Resurrection to this day. It is held on the week-end following the feast of Mary Magdalene on July 22nd.
May we take Massignon's suggestion and let Mary Magdalene's great love of God and the women who were healed of "evil spirits and ailments" through their great faith become an exemplary guide for us all. Massignon's suggestion that Saint John, as the Virgin Mary's new son is a model of substituionary prayer, or Badaliya, is an invitation to deepen our faith experience and enhance our shared reflections.
Have a Blessed summer.
Peace to you.