When thinking about religion, one might think of it as a strict way of life followed by millions which is true. Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism are major religions that can be defined by the previous sentence but we often ignore the beauty and logic behind each belief. The truth is that present society has deluded our definitions of each religion with ISIS, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, and occasional Christian protests through the use of social media and generalization. “Muslim” or “Islam” is often associated with the relatively small, radical group called ISIS, but we fail to see that the majority of the Islamic population continue to practice the original belief in peace and unity. Thankfully, a recent trip to visit honest followers of the three religions Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism has helped to redefine my obstructed views of each religion and I can only pray that others will be able to have the same eye-opening opportunity as I did that rejuvenated my appreciation and respect for each religion.
Of the different branches of Christianity, there are two main branches that occurred due to the Great Schism from Pentecost into the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Because the Roman Catholic Church was further divided into many branches of Christianity, modern variations in Christianity differ in many ways from the church closest to Pentecost (original Christian church), Eastern Orthodox. On my trip, I went to a Greek Orthodox Church (Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church), one of many Eastern Orthodox churches. There is no way to fully describe the grandeur of the edifice. Every detail of the church was done with such dedication and precision, creating a magnificently sacred place. Unlike modern churches that do not include many pieces of art, the Greek Orthodox Church had paintings nearly on every wall, each centered on God’s glory and grace. The church was intentionally placed with the entrance coming from west to east with a greater meaning. This structure follows the pattern of light, the sun, which rises from the East and sets in the West. Members enter the church from the West to the East as a symbol of leaving the darkness and entering into the light. Another example of detail is how the artists sign their paintings for a church. Instead of blatantly writing their name, artists sign it “by the hand of”, signifying how they believe that they were merely vessels of God’s glory. A final example of hidden meanings in details can be found in the hand position of either icons or Jesus himself. Using three fingers, representing the Holy Trinity, the fingers are used to spell out the first few characters of Jesus’s name in Greek, Christos. The index finger is straight and is used as the “I” in Jesus (in Greek), the middle finger is curved, symbolizing the character “C” in Jesus, and the ring finger is crossed with the thumb to make an “X” character for Christ as well as symbolizing the unity of God and man. The ring finger and pinkie also hold the meaning of fully man and fully God and the pinkie is curved to create a “C” shape for the last character is Christ (Jesus (IHCOYC) Christ (XPICTOC)). From going to the Greek Orthodox Church, I realized that even the smallest details can worship God and when combined, the outcome is a beautifully pieced place of worship.
The next destination was a mosque named Al-Farooq Masjid. Al-Farooq Masjid is just as magnificent aesthetically as the Greek Orthodox Church but more elegant. There was a lack of paintings intentionally to keep worshipers focused on Allah, the Islamic name for God. Unlike Holy Transfiguration, the mosque’s sanctuary was very minimalist to the extent of having no chairs but still was a very beautiful sight to see with simplistic detailing. The structure of the mosque is based on complete focus on Allah, and to support this, men and women are separated where men are on the main level and women are on the overlooking terrace level and dress conservatively. Like the Greek Orthodox Church, the mosque was pointed towards a certain direction which in this case towards Mecca, the center of Islam. Islam naturally is a lesser understood religion due to the diluting of the faith by generalizations. Just as Christians have the Bible and the Jewish have the Torah, Muslims use the Koran as their scriptures. For religious laws, they follow the Five Pillars of Faith and Six Articles of Faith. The Five Pillars of Faith Say: Declare your faith, pray five times per day, give to charity, fast during the month of Ramadan, and follow pilgrimage to Mecca. The Six Article of Faith include: Believe in God, believe in angels, believe in God’s scriptures (including the Bible and Torah), believe in the prophets of God (especially Muhammad), believe in Judgement Day, and believe in the divine decree of God. Looking at how conservative and modest the religion, it is hard to imagine that some extremist groups exist which is why the trip to Al-Farooq Masjid was so eye-opening. Islam unifies people by making everyone equal and is a very quiet religion, literally. Loud noises are not permitted in the mosque, nonetheless singing because they believe that God does not need loud worship, only genuine worship. After visiting the mosque I could see beauty in the serenity of the religion and the logic behind each command given which opened new doors of understanding for me.
Although we were not able to go to a Jewish synagogue, we were able to speak with a Rabbi to further our understanding of the religion. To begin, we discussed the fundamentals of Judaism. Scripture that the Jewish follow is called the Torah which is the Old Testament of the Bible. A question commonly asked is whether the Jewish population is a race or a culture. Being a Jew is not defined by race because Judaism is spread among a multitude of ethnicities across the world, making it more like a culture. Like other religions, there are multiple branches of Judaism that range from Orthodox (extremely conservative) to Reform (extremely relaxed), but it is truly up to the interpretation of the scriptures. Another befuddling aspect of Jewish culture is how Hebrew was resurrected after being a dead language for so long. The resurrection of Hebrew came along with the topic of Israel being reinstated to the Jewish people. When the Jews found out about the revival of their state, they also decided to revive their language but there was an issue: the language had been extinct for hundreds of years and with modernization they might not have many of the words needed to function in modern society. Because of this, there was a great addition of vocabulary to Hebrew following the basic principles of Hebrew. Scholars were also able to revive Hebrew using the pre-existing language of Yiddish which was a mix between German and Hebrew. What can be seen from the basic history of Judaism is that it is a persisting religion despite the numbers of obstacles meaning that the religion has strong fundamentals which will hopefully continue into the future.
The last place of interest was a Lebanese restaurant called Nicola’s Restaurant. Food influences obviously came from the Mediterranean area as long was the surrounding countries like Egypt. A lot of natural greens and produce was used in the cooking which suggests a more agricultural society (fattoush, hummus, malfouf, etc.). After eating, Nicola showed off his dancing skills which shocked us all. For a 73 year old, he really knew how to dance which can be translated to the fact that dancing may have a profound effect on Lebanese culture. Dancing styles include Middle-Eastern belly dancing, which is from diffusion of Arabic culture into the area. Though I did not acquire as much factual knowledge from Nicola’s Restaurant, the physical experience was unforgettable.
4/19/2017 12:21:55 pm
Good job champ!
Sunny D. Smith
4/19/2017 12:24:52 pm
This is better than a good ole cup of Sunny D!!!
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