December 21, 2014.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Islands of Peace Institute Faith Sharing on Sunday, December 21,2014 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.

We are in the midst of the Christian season of Advent, a time of prayerful reflection and waiting for the miracle of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus. Meanwhile, Christians and other minorities continue to suffer persecution, mounting numbers of regugees stretch the limits of aid available throughout the Middle East and the beautiful Christmas Tree lights in Manger Square in Bethlehem were extinguished in protest at the killing of yet another human life. Perhaps it is not so strange then that it is the story of the Prophet John, known to Christians as John the Baptist in the Gospels, who shepherds us throughout this season of waiting, as after all, he too was to suffer a violent death at the hands of King Herod on behalf of the Roman State at the time.

In Christianity, John the Baptist not only heralds the coming of Christ and a new era in the world but he is also witness to the end of the great Jewish prophetic books as found in the Hebrew Bible. For Christians John is witness to their fulfillment in the person of Jesus.That would cause Jesus to proclaim, "Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."(Mt.11:11) Jesus will invite us to something radically new and grounded in His message of Peace; the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Islam, the Prophet John, or Yahya in Arabic, is one of the 25 Prophets named in the Qur'an. As in the Gospels the Qur'an notes the miraculous nature of John's birth by his elderly mother who was until then barren, and his aging father, the Prophet, Zechariah. As with the Virgin Mary's story, there are many verses in the Qur'an dedicated to Zechariah and his son, the Prophet John. Although there is no mention of John as baptizing the people or of baptizing Jesus, he is glorified for his own virtuous nature and wisdom and for calling the Jewish people to turn away from their emphasis on the Law and back toward faith in Allah. References by scholars of Islam have also indicated his challenge to King Herod and his subsequent imprisonment and beheading that correspond to the stories found in the Gospel accounts. For Muslims, the way the Prophet John's story is told in the Qur'an serves as a model for how faith and trust in Allah, such as that of his father, Zechariah, will bear much fruit, and how a son must respect and honor his parents.

Among the Sacred Relics on display in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul are two relics of the Prophet John; a fragment of his skull on a gold plate kept in a box made of rock crystal from the 16th century and his arm, kept in a silver reliquary with gold designs. This relic was brought from Antioch what was then known as Constantinople, in the 12th century at the time of Constantine VII and housed in the emperor's chapel that was then in the Church of the Virgin Mary. It has remained in Istanbul since the conquest by the Ottomans in the 15th century.

In his annual letter to members of the Badaliya prayer movement written in December 1948, Louis Massignon wrote: "Never more than in this year 1948 has the Church been in such need of "Badaliya-ites", of compassionate brothers substituting themselves for their Eastern brothers who are being abandoned by the temporal powers and driven into exile as "displaced persons".....He could as easily have been speaking of the year 2014. His devotion to the fate of the three Abrahamic faiths in the Holy Land led him to pray fervently that the promises of God found in our Advent readings from the Prophet Isaiah be fulfilled. We are waiting and praying for that "new heaven and new earth" that the Prophet John announces to us, even today.

May we continue to share our faith traditions and experiences with one another and may we wait together for the coming of the Lord in our hearts and in our world.

Peace and blessings to you during these holy days and in the New Year.