From Nayiri Karjian, Association General Minister
January 4, 2024

I remember my first Christmas in the US. There was a shift in the air. There were carols in public places, music and lights, parties and gatherings, gifts and the colorful packages, all brought vibrancy and radiance during a time when the days were short and the nights long. The festivity was palpable to me as most people seemed to be in a generous and festive mood.

Today, I still feel that shift during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year season, and am often puzzled that by the end of New Year’s Day, we’re back to what was. The festivity and the generosity become a distant memory and people go back to their lives…

Perhaps this is why I hold on to Christmas, especially Epiphany, as I want the season of light and celebration to continue on. As Christmas is increasingly secularized, I like to hold on to Epiphany because Epiphany especially helps me embrace and reflect on the theology of Christmas – the birth of the Christ Child, the Light of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Gift of Gifts, Emmanuel, the Incarnation, the revelation, and more.

This year however, I struggle to go beyond what is happening on the land we call “holy,”- the violence and bloodshed in the area where Jesus was born. Although it is difficult to comprehend the armed conflicts happening around the world today, of which, according to Geneva Academy, there are 114, the one in the Middle East feels personal not only because I grew up in the area, but because it is the land of the birth of our faith.

The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, published a statement on the celebration of Advent and Christmas in the midst of war, calling “upon our congregations to stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities. We likewise encourage our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in their pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations during this period, with all the focus directed at holding in our thoughts our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land. Moreover, during this season of giving, we also invite the faithful to advocate, pray, and contribute generously as they are able for the relief of the victims of this war and for those in dire need, as well as to encourage others to join them in this mission of mercy.”

So this year, Churches in the Middle East commemorated Christmas instead of celebrating it. And I trust that Jesus was born in their midst, in the midst of suffering and pain, in the midst of violence and carnage.

To discuss this Crisis in the “Holy Land”, please join us to hear from Dr. Peter Makari, Global Relations Minister (Middle East and Europe) and Team Leader – Global Ministries Team, who will shed light on the context, the history, and the issues of the day. The gathering is scheduled for Epiphany Day, January 6, 9:30 am via zoom. Please register here to receive the link and invite others to do so.