June 20, 2021.
Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday June 20, 2021 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, and for an end to the pandemic with recovery of health for the world.
Since the feast of Pentecost on Sunday May 23rd this year, Christians have returned to our life's journey that we call a pilgrimage, with, in and through the person of Christ. We again hear narratives of the ancient Hebrew people and the promised covenants that God made with them found in the Book of Genesis. These promised covenants required a response of faithfulness exemplified by the wonderful story of Abram and his wife Sarai, each given a new name by God and a child in their old age. Abram's willingness to offer God this most precious son as a sacrificial offering became the ultimate test that made Abraham the father of all three Abrahamic faith traditions. Christians experience Christ as the fulfillment of these covenants and their promises of an eternal relationship of God with all of humanity. As followers of Jesus we journey together with those early Jesus followers as they slowly came to experience him as that fulfillment; the promised Messiah, the anointed one of God.
In our April reflection, we described our journey through life as a pilgrimage. We shared a pilgrim journey that Louis Massignon made to Ephesus, Turkey in 1951 to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. This story of resurrection is found in the XVIII Surah of the Qur'an and in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions as well. In his ongoing search for the sources for the legends of saints in Islam and Christianity, especially those that can bring Christian and Muslim believers closer together, Massignon visited many Marian shrines like Maryam Ana, the House of the Virgin Mary, not far from the cave near Ephesus, described in our April letter.
He was interested in how the Eastern churches and their devotions found their way to Brittany, in Celtic France, possibly through the trade routes between Ireland and the Middle East in the 5th century. In 1953 he discovered a chapel in a tiny hamlet in the village of Vieux Marché, Brittany that was dedicated to seven saints, placed on the altar with the Virgin Mary between them, called La Chapelle des Sept Dormants, the Chapel of the Seven Sleepers. In villages throughout this Celtic part of France, there are many ancient chapels built more than a thousand years ago that celebrate annual pilgrimages between the months of March and October. At this one, a legend is always read in ancient Breton that tweaked Massignon's curiosity. Translated into modern day French, the legend bears a remarkable resemblance to Surah XVIII, el Kaf found in the Qur'an about seven Christians who hid in a cave from the persecutions of the Emperor, Decius in the 3rd century. This is a resurrection story that continues to be told in the Eastern Orthodox churches today as well.
The people in this small hamlet assumed that the seven statues on the altar of the chapel were representing seven Bishops until Massignnon translated the Breton story and suggested to the local Bishop that the annual pardon, or pilgrimage, become a shared Christian and Muslim celebration. Even more significant to Massignon was that this pilgrimage is held on the closest weekend to July 22nd, the Feast dedicated to Mary Magdalen, the first to witness the Resurrection of Christ. As we pointed out in the April letter, when Massignon visited the Cave of the Seven Sleepers in Ephesus, Turkey in 1951, he discovered that a Church dedicated to her had been built above the cave and moreover a sarcophagus at the entrance was said to be where Mary Magdalen is buried.
The connection to Maryam Ana, the House of the Virgin Mary not far from the cave in Ephesus, to the pilgrimage site in Brittany was another correspondence, as Massignon called these apparent coincidences. On a path from the Chapel to a clearing in a wooded area in Vieux Marché there is a natural Spring with seven veins of fresh water filling the small fountain. Many shrines honoring the Virgin Mary around the world are located near these kinds of natural Springs including the House of Virgin Mary, Maryam Ana Evi in Ephesus. This one, with its unique seven veins, is striking given the legend of the seven sleepers associated with the Chapel. At the instigation of Massignon this annual pilgrimage has included Christians and Muslims since 1954. The community processes to the fountain where Surah XVIII is chanted by a local Imam. This is sacred ground. More recently a conference with speakers from both traditions takes place on the Friday and Saturday of the pilgrimage weekend.
This year, the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia takes place between Saturday July 17th - Thursday July 22nd and beautifully corresponds with the pilgrimage to the Chapelle des sept Dormant in Brittany, France. This pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam for practicing Muslims throughout the world. For those who can afford it this is a once in a lifetime obligation and thousands traditionally gather in Mecca each year. The experience of so many men and women all wearing a simple white garment, processing around the Ka'aba and bowing in prayer together is a vision of communal unity despite the vast number of different languages and cultures. This too is sacred ground.
For Christians and Muslims these special devotional pilgrimages represent our everyday pilgrimage through life as we journey together praying for unity and harmony in our fractured world. As we enter into our summer break, let us hold all those attending the annual Hajj and the annual pilgrimage at the Chapelle des Sept Dormants in Brittany on July 22nd, the Feast of Mary Magdalen, in our hearts and minds. May this sacred ground of shared belief be a healing force for an end to division, hatred and violence so desperately needed in our world and for a promised resurrection of peace with justice. A special prayer for Israelis and Palestinians that they may live together in peace sharing the Holy Land that is sacred ground for all three Abrahamic faith traditions.
Blessed Summer and Peace to you,
See my "Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon", chapter 8, for a complete description of the Legend of the Seven Sleepers in the Qur'an and the annual Breton pilgrimage.
(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)