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By Teresa Peneguy Paprock
Above: Not your usual Orthodox Christian gathering: Daniel Spiro, left, and Haytham Younis
An imam, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, and the bartender says, “What is this? A joke?” It’s not often you see Muslims, Christians and Jews in conversation. But at the 2010 Orthodox Peace Fellowship North America Conference, representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths talked together, laughed together, broke bread together and discussed the challenges of interfaith dialogue in today’s fear-charged world. The conference was held the first three days of October at St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California.
The stage was set Friday evening by keynote speaker Dr. Ben Campbell Johnson, executive director of the Institute of Church Renewal and the author of more than a dozen books, including Beyond 9/11: Christians and Muslims Together: An Invitation to Conversation. Johnson, a former evangelical, taught at Columbia Theological Seminary from 1981 to 2000. “Nothing in my life,” he said, “would have predicted that someday I would be standing here [at an interfaith event hosted by Orthodox Christians].”
At the age of 75, Johnson had an epiphany. He realized that the 21st century would be all about Christians and Muslims “and I didn’t know anything about Islam.” After reading and research on Islam, he found himself sitting across from a Muslim woman having a heart-to-heart conversation. He thought to himself, “This woman believes in the same God that I do. I began to see the world differently.”
Johnson admitted that for most of his life, he had been afraid of engaging people of faiths other than his own variety of Protestant Christianity. But the more he learned about different religions, and the more time he spent with people of other faiths, the deeper his own faith became.
Above: “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy” – Ted Swartz on the right
After dinner in the parish hall, the conference participants gathered for some comic relief from Ted & Company Theaterworks. Ted Swartz, a Mennonite, had planned to become a pastor, but fell in love with theater in college and has been performing ever since. His satiric play, “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy,” exposed the ironies of American society as it relates to peace, justice, and fear. “War is such an eclectic endeavor,” he sighs with a smile. “Sooner or later you get to play it with everybody.”
The next morning, three concurrent dialogue sessions were held: Jewish-Muslim (Daniel Spiro and Hytham Younis, co-founders of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society in Washington, DC); Catholic-Orthodox (Fr. Steven Tsichlis, pastor of St. Paul’s, and Fr. Al Baca of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in nearby Tustin); and Orthodox-Mennonite (OPF’s Alexander Patico, Fr. Alexander Goussetis of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Swartz).
Ms. Jahan Stanizai, a Muslim who is president the Interfaith Alliance in Culver City, then participated in a community dialogue with Fr. John-Brian Paprock, of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Madison, Wisconsin, and creator of Wisconsin’s Interfaith Awareness Week, now in its 12th year.
Stanizai is from Afghanistan – the “old” Afghanistan, before most of the country was seized by extremists. “We were a secular country that was 99 percent Muslim,” she said. “We were the Switzerland of Asia. We had women in power, we had excellent education. Now they say you can’t find a wall more than a foot high without a bullet hole in it.” As a result of the current power structure and the war, she says, “many opportunities have been lost. Educated people are under attack – killed, imprisoned or have left the country. Afghanistan has lost a generation.”
Stanizai, a psychotherapist who works in family therapy, senses peoples’ discomfort when they find out she is a Muslim. “People hold back. I can see their reaction,” she said.“I learned more about my religion in the US than I did in my own country. I analyzed the Koran here and I see how many Muslim cultures are wrong. [But hatred] is contradictory to the Koran.”
Fr. John-Brian Paprock, a priest and hospital chaplain, said he deals with interfaith issues all the time, especially at the hospital, where more than 90 percent of the people he sees are non-Orthodox. While serving in the Madison Urban Ministry, involved in issues such as homelessness, he worked with an all-white group of clergy. “We were talking about race relations and I thought, ‘There’s a problem here,’” he said. But when the group became more diverse, conflict arose – not between people of different races, but between people of different religions: specifically a Baptist and a member of the Nation of Islam (both African-Americans). “I realized the biggest issue we deal with is not race, but faith,” he said. Dealing with interfaith issues can be uncomfortable, “but it’s the struggle. When you are most uncomfortable, that is when you meet God.”
Like others at the conference, Paprock noted that, in becoming more involved in interfaith dialogue, “I’ve gone deeper into my own faith. And I realized that God is bigger than all religions. God doesn’t need religion; we do. God allows us to be separate.”
The author of several books, including Neighbors, Strangers and Everyone Else, Paprock believes that Orthodox Christians “can honor the goodness in others even if those others are deceived.… I do not believe there is more than the one Way to get to the Father. At the same time, we cannot judge anyone outside of our own community – for they may have a relationship with God we may not fathom.”
After lunch and into the evening, conference participants watched three films.
Arranged tells the story of the friendship between an Orthodox Jewish woman her Muslim colleague, both new teachers at a Brooklyn school. The young women both respect their family traditions, which include arranged marriage, but must also deal with modern frustrations.
The second film, Out of Cordoba, is about inter-religious harmony in the ancient Spanish city of Cordoba. Director Jacob Bender attended the conference to comment on the film. The film takes Bender, an American Jew, on a post 9-11 journey to Spain, Morocco, France, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel. He found that conflict between Judaism and Islam is not inevitable.
Ruth Broyde Sharone presented God and Allah Need to Talk. Sharone is a film maker, interfaith pro-activist, community organizer and motivational speaker. The film portrays both the Islamic Center of Southern California, which welcomes visitors of other faiths, and Temple Kol Tikvah, which holds an annual Muslim-Jewish Seder of Reconciliation. Before and after the film, Persian singer Mamak Khadem performed some haunting melodies with Israeli musician Yuval Ron.
The conference presented all the participants with an amazing opportunity to live the biblical text: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Leviticus 19:33-34]
Teresa Peneguy Paprock is a writer and a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. She is married to Fr. John-Brian Paprock of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Madison, Wisconsin. Next years’s OPF conference, on the theme of forgiveness, will be held in Madison.
❖ IN COMMUNION / FEAST OF ST. ANASTASIA OF ROME / FALL 2010/ issue 58
The Annual North American Conference of OPF will take place in Irvine, CA, October 1 through 3, 2010. The unifying theme is “Interfaith Dialogue.” Speakers will come from the Orthodox tradition, as well as Jewish, Muslim, and others. The program will be a mix of talks and discussions, music, comedy, award-winning films and one-on-one conversation. Though differences exist and need to be acknowledged, we can learn from one another and create a more peaceful world in the process. Non-members are welcome — this conference is not to be missed!
“Registration can be done by returning this form to Alex Patico at email@example.com in advance, or onsite at the conference venue in Irvine.”
Conference Theme: “Interfaith Dialogue”
1:00 – 5:00 pm Registration, St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, CA
3:00 – 5:00 pm Meeting of Conference Staff (Church Conference Room) or: Free Time
5:00 – 6:00 pm Conference Opening/Keynote: The Interfaith Conversation:
A Talk with Ben Johnson, founder of Interfaith Institute
6:15 – 7:15 pm Dinner in the Church Hall
7:30 – 8:30 pm I’d Like to Buy an Enemy – Ted & Company
8:30 – 9:00 pm Discussion of issues related to the show
9:00 pm Transportation back to hotel
7:30 – 8:30 am Breakfast at hotel (or elsewhere)/ Transportation to Church
8:00 – 9:00 am Registration/Conversation
9:00 – 10:15 am Concurrent Sessions
A Jewish-Muslim Dialogue
Daniel Spiro and Hytham Younis
Co-founders, The Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society (Washington, DC Area)
B Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue
Fr. Steven Tsichlis, St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church (Irvine, CA) and
Fr. Al Baca, St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church (Tustin, CA)
C Orthodox-Mennonite Dialogue
Alexander Patico, OPF Secretary (North America)
Fr. Alex Goussetis, Annunciation Gr. Orthodox Cathedral (Lancaster, PA)
10:15 – 10:30 am Break/ Refreshments
10:30 – 11:45 am Community Dialogue
Fr. John-Brian Paprock, Interfaith Awareness Week (Madison, WI)
Ms. Jahan Stanzai, Culver City Interfaith Alliance (Culver City, CA)
11:45 am – noon Break
12:00 – 1:00 pm Lunch in the Church Hall
Remarks by Attillah Kahveci, Pacifica Foundation (Los Angeles, CA)
1:00 – 2:00 pm Free Time for conversation or meditation, or
OPF Organizational Meeting (optional)
2:00 pm – 3:15 pm Film: Arranged
Note: This film concerns arranged marriage in the Muslim and Orthodox
Jewish communities and dealing with modernity and tradition.
3:15 – 3:45 pm Film discussion
3:45 – 4:00 pm Break
4:00 – 5:22 pm Film: Out of Cordoba: Averroes and Maimonides in Their Time and Ours.”
Note: This film shows the rich tradition of inter-religious harmony and
synergy in the ancient Spanish city of Cordoba.
5:30 – 6:00 pm Discussion with filmmaker Jacob Bender
6:00 – 6:45 pm Vespers at St. Paul’s Sanctuary
6:45 – 7:45 pm Dinner at area restaurant
8:00 – 10:15 pm Workshop and film: God and Allah Must Talk
Ruth Broyde Sharone (Los Angeles, CA)
Note: Ms. Sharone will be leading conferees in an energetic examination of what we each might do to increase understanding and promote peace.
Note: please complete your check-out in the morning, or make alternate arrangements
8:00 -9:00 am Breakfast at hotel (for those not fasting in preparation for Liturgy)
9:00 am Orthros Service
10:00 am Divine Liturgy
Serving: Fr. Steven Tsichlis, other clergy
11:45 – 12:45 Luncheon in the Church Hall
Closing Remarks: Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Note: regarding 2011 Conference OPF-North America on “Forgiveness.”
1:00 pm Conference Close
Several meetings held as a part of the recent OPF-North American conference in Maryland focused on the road ahead. These notes grew out of those discussions.
Education: Taking education to mean both educating ourselves and helping to educate others, we have begun to develop a more active engagement. There is interest in providing formal and informal experiences for OPF members to advance their development as peacemakers, while also giving of our own knowledge and understanding of Holy Tradition to others within the larger community.
One way will be to promote learning from others who are further along on that particular journey, such as the Christian Peacemaker Teams, acknowledging that what matters most is how effectively we facilitate the growth of Christ’s peace among His people, rather than parochial concerns of jurisdiction.
OPF Conference: For the 2009 Conference, David Holden suggested focusing on health, including mental health, possibly doing it as a joint conference with the Orthodox Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Topics within this area in which members have evinced interest include: PTSD and suicide (as manifested by returning troops who must cope with what they have seen and done in war), schizophrenia and other maladies that require much of family and care-givers, counseling that recognizes and draws upon spirituality, and asceticism in the past, present and future of the Church. Two venues have been discussed for 2009: the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and a location in the Minneapolis area. We hope to get back to the western part of the continent, if not in 2009, then 2010.
Collaboration: Educating others begins at home with Orthodox Christians. In higher education, we have begun a new collaboration with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship to provide a way to bring an awareness of OPF and the search for peace to many more young people. An earlier OPF publication, For the Peace from Above, will be used, with editing and revision, in this new context.
Children’s curriculum: In elementary/secondary education, Renee Zitzloff suggested we develop a children’s curriculum on relevant topics; she has been joined in this project by Sally Eckert. Synaxis, an Orthodox publishing house, has offered to support us with low-cost publishing of texts we develop for these projects.
Adult education: In Communion articles and original writings by members can gain wider circulation via the web. We will also consider the possibility of an OPF blog using essays based on conference talks as a basis for discussion. The same sort of thing can be done through Ancient Faith Radio, using audio versions.
Making OPF better known: Mother Raphaela proposed a special mailing of In Communion to non-members who may be interested in joining. Elaine Patico suggested establishing an “OPF Sunday.” Participating parishes would be provided with a Presentation Kit from OPF, which might include an outline for a talk or discussion, back issues of In Communion, OPF brochures, the resource book we are developing for OCF, and OPF mini-posters with patristic texts on peace and reconciliation.
Web presence: Michael Markwick is preparing to open a new section of InCommunion.org that will serve as a North American sub-site, to cover events and developments in our region, and report on conferences and chapter happenings. We would like to see it be truly North American, with contributions from the US, Canada and Mexico. We will be soliciting contributions of event notices, articles or essays by members to populate this new sub-site.
Local groups: Renee Zitzloff and others started on OPF group in Minneapolis which she hopes to revitalize during the coming year. Members in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles have expressed interest in starting local groups.
Extra-Orthodox contacts: Alex Patico has been working with the Decade to Overcome Violence, a World Council of Churches project, and Olive Branch Partnership, an interfaith group that sprang out of the Christian Witness against the War in Iraq.
Future contacts might include a project designed to aid and train clergy who work with returning veterans, which is being organized by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (Eastern Mennonite University); Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace – a meeting of the Atraditional peace churches” (Quaker, Mennonite and Brethren), which will take place in January in Philadelphia (OPF has been invited to participate); and Consistent Life, an “International Network for Peace, Justice and Life,” which emphasizes a consistent ethic opposing abortion, assisted suicide, capital punishment and war.
Peacemaking Services: It has been suggested that OPF develop a capability to assist parishes or Orthodox organizations in resolving intractable conflicts. This may seem an impossibly ambitious aim, but if a sufficient number of members were to make a serious commitment, it could be an important contribution to the life of the Church.
As the concept has taken shape thus far, OPF would assemble a team that would include persons with a background in conflict analysis, conflict resolution, relationship-building; would be based on high standards of confidentiality, professionalism, and Christ-centeredness; would be done at lowest-possible cost to the inviting group, but with minimum out-of-pocket expense for those taking part; would develop, over time, a body of knowledge that itself could prove useful to other groups confronting antagonism that threatens to undermine the peace and growth of parishes. One existing example of practical peacemaking that is changing lives and communities is Reconciliation Services, an Orthodox-oriented, Kansas-based community organization with a unique mission (www.rs3101.org).
Accountability: In order that members and supporters of OPF be able to know how their donations are being used, and to be able to influence the directions taken, we have resolved to send regular updates to the members of the Advisory Board of OPF, consult with active and experienced members regarding decisions, provide answers, in a timely fashion, to any member who has questions about our dealings, and distribute an annual report on finances that goes to the entire membership.
– Alex Patico, OPF-NA secretary
Fall 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 51