September 16, 2007.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday September 16th, 2007 at 3pm at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

In his wisdom, Louis Massignon wrote of pilgrimages as essential to what he called a "living faith". As pilgrims we leave the comfort of our daily life in order to find, once more, our "transcendent homeland". "Faith is our lifeline" as we make this journey. Massignon suggests that the most humble human life is predisposed "through the loving arbitration of divine transcendence, for an unimaginable Meeting". This was written in 1949 when Louis Massignon was completing his own pilgrimage and "sacred archeological research on the land of excavations, Ephesus" in modern day Turkey. His descriptions of the Cave of the Seven Sleepers and the original burial place of Mary Magdalene, as well as of the House of the Virgin Mary, both found in the same vicinity above the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus, were an inspiration for us this summer as we traveled from one ancient sacred sight to another in Turkey. We were guided by our Muslim friends from the Boston Dialogue Foundation who offered us this opportunity to make our pilgrimage to Istanbul, Konya, Cappadocia, Hieropolis, Pammakkule, and Ephesus. The fruits of our Badaliya prayer were most evident on this magnificent journey. The Cave of the Seven Sleepers, and the House of the Virgin Mary are pilgrimage sites for both Christians and Muslims. Photos will be posted on my website indicated below.

Here are Massignon's own reflections on these two pilgrimage sites:
"The Magdalene, whose body was transferred to Constantinople (known as Istanbul today) around the year 905, then perhaps to St. Baume in Province, France between 1204 and 1279, retreated to Ephesus and was first buried to the right of the threshold of the future catacomb where the VII Sleepers would be walled in. Now, the niche, at the right of the threshold, as I noticed last September 19th thanks to my Turkish guide, is the same place where the Qur'anic tradition puts the post of the mysterious caretaker, the Guardian (the dog mentioned along with the seven persecuted Christians in the XVIIIth Sura of the Qur'an) always awake to watch over the seven sleepers as they slept. How did a clandestine tomb built for the Magdalene during a pagan time become confused with a mysterious, terrible and sacred watchdog? Was it borrowed from the caves of hunting dogs from the great ancient Greek Goddess Diana of Ephesus?
And, I believe it is more interesting, in order to understand the last thoughts of the VII Sleepers, to take into consideration their choice as a place of refuge; a grotto "protected" by the clandestine burial of a Saint without peer, the Magdalene. This choice determined their destiny in an unusual way, it predestined them to the same holiness. In fact, who is Mary Magdalene if not the penitent whose impatient desire allowed her to be the first witness to the Resurrection, because her own annihilation through contrition made her "love more". Even at Ephesus the Christian tradition had other holy 'dormitions' to be explained by love's victory (St. John and probably the Virgin Mary) without stopping at the mysterious presence of the body of the Magdalene at the "door" of the VII Sleepers. But the Muslim tradition, which has only the VII Sleepers as positive Qur'anic Witnesses of the Resurrection, has perfectly understood, that through the watchfulness of their mysterious Guardian, the VII Sleepers had realized the fulness of "tawakkul", the abandonment of oneself to God through love". (Excerpts from The Importance of Faith to the World (1949) by Louis Massignon in Faith in Jesus Christ and Today's World pp.192-196, Ed. Flore, Paris)

It was in a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Ephesus that the Church Council of 431 declared Mary as the Theotokos, the Mother of God. And it is to Ephesus that tradition claims that she was brought to live by St. John, escaping the persecutions of Christians in Jerusalem at the time. The remains of The House of Mary, which is where she is said to have lived out the remainder of her life, was discovered on July 29th 1891 by a Lazarist Priest who was following the description of the location in the visions of the early19th century German mystic, Anne Katherine Emmerick, (1774-1824) who had never traveled outside of Germany. Ephesus would also have therefore been the place of the Virgin Mary's Dormition, the feast that we now call the Assumption celebrated on August 15th. Every year on that date Christians and Muslims flock to the House of Mary to pray and celebrate the Mother of Jesus.

Set in the wooded hills beside a natural spring, this small two room stone house with the living area now serving as a chapel and the small room beside it glowing with candles, The House of Mary, Meryem Ana Evi, rests high above the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus and the modern day city of Selçuk on the shores of the Aegean coast, a tribute to the historic evolution and blending of ancient Roman gods and goddesses, into a unique place in the world where Muslims and Christians can offer their prayers together.

It is of pilgrims and pilgramages that we are invited to reflect on this gathering of the Badaliya prayer. And of the Virgin Mary who speaks so clearly to both Muslims and Christians. Let us also not forget that we share in the witness of the VII Sleepers of Ephesus to the mystery of the resurrection. By remembering their connection to Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection in our tradition, may our hope for peace and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters of all faith traditions be kindled and our faith in the loving mercy of God bring an end to violent solutions to conflict everywhere.

Peace to you,

Go to Home page, click on photos to accompany the book Dialogues with Saints and Mystics. Click on Ephesus