September 16, 2007.
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