Taybeh – 4-6 November 2012
As part of its ecumenical ministry, Sabeel hosts an annual retreat for church clergy from all over Palestine and Israel. This year, twenty-three clergy – representing different church denominations and coming from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Birzeit, Zababdeh, Ramallah, Jerusalem, and the Galilee – gathered for fellowship, study, and prayer.
Clergy Program Coordinator Sawsan Bitar opened the retreat by greeting the participants on behalf of Rev. Naim Ateek, Director of Sabeel, who was on Sabbatical for 6 months. She conveyed Rev. Naim’s message to the clergy, thanking them for their commitment to the program and to each other. Ms. Bitar also introduced His Grace Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who greeted the audience with great satisfaction that all three traditional Christian churches were represented: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants.
Bishop Hanna then introduced the speaker, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, who delivered a talk on “What It Means to Pray.” Patriarch Sabbah described prayer as the continual process of coming before God, who is ready to give, and making ourselves ready to receive so that we can enter into God’s life. His reflection centered on the Lord’s Prayer highlighting the following lessons:
• Love is of utmost importance in all things, including prayer.
• Jesus said “Give us” not “give me” – which may well have referred to collective response.
• When I go to appear before the Lord, I don’t go alone; I take along all of his creation.
• “Your Kingdom come”: Creation works together with God to prepare for the full arrival of God’s Kingdom.
• “Your will be done”: We confess that God knows our needs.
In the next session, all the clergy participated in a discussion on the challenges facing Christians in the Holy Land as a result of both Jewish and Muslim extremists. The discussion seemed so needed that Patriarch Michel Sabbah and Archbishop Atallah Hanna suggested Sabeel plan a study day in order to further discuss how best to handle extremist attacks.
That evening, Rev. Saba Khair, Greek Orthodox priest from Beit Sahour, presented a meditation on the seven short statements spoken by Jesus on the cross.
1st “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
2nd “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
3rd “Behold you son, behold your mother.”
4th “Eloi Eloi, why have you forsaken me.”
5th “I am thirsty.”
6th “It is finished.”
7th “Into your hands I entrust my soul.”
The second morning, the group convened in the chapel of Mar Ephraim’s home for the elderly in Taybeh, opposite to the Mar Ephraim guesthouse where the retreat was held. Rev. Ibrahim Simaan of the Baptist Church – Nazareth led the morning reflection on the topic of love. Spending this time at the home for the elderly was a great blessing, as the clergy were able to visit and talk with the residents after inviting them to join the prayer time.
Fr. Rafiq Khoury from the Latin Patriarchate has recently published a book called Towards a Theology Incarnated in Our Land, so Sabeel invited him to lead two sessions in helping the clergy reflect on two chapters from his book. The theme of the first session was from the chapter titled “Churches or Denominations.” Fr. Rafiq gave the historical background and summarized his lecture by saying that our relationship with God must intersect with the relationships we have in our communities.
After a mid-morning break, Fr. Rafiq divided the clergy into two groups to work on answering some questions he gave them relevant to the lecture.
In the afternoon, Fr. Rafiq led his second session on “The Word of God Within the Christian Community” and highlighted the following mandates of the Church:
1. To listen to the word of God and meditate on it.
2. To accept the word of God joyfully.
3. To make whole the word of God by discovering its various interpretations.
4. To incarnate it in history.
5. To declare it through theological and prophetic ministry.
This session also concluded with discussion groups.
After a busy day, the priests spent time before dinner in individual meditation to process the information. After dinner, the clergy enjoyed a tour of the village of Taybeh.
On the last morning, Fr. Bishara Warwar led Morning Prayer according to the Orthodox tradition. The priests very much enjoyed the participation of the people from Mar Ephraim’s home for the elderly, who once again joined for prayer and fellowship.
For the third day’s first session, Fr. Suheil Khoury, originally from the depopulated village of Ikrat in the Galilee, spoke on the theme “Arise, let us be going,” inspired by Mathew 26:46. It was a thought-provoking presentation, followed by a powerful discussion. All the participants agreed to set aside more time to renew themselves through prayer and ecumenical spiritual gatherings and thanked Sabeel for continuing these ecumenical events.
Sawsan Bitar the Clergy Program Coordinator chaired the last session of the retreat, updating the clergy on the upcoming Sabeel events and encouraging them to take part in a variety of Sabeel’s community programs. The clergy filled out evaluations, also giving recommendations for themes to focus on next year. The retreat concluded with a nice lunch after which the clergy all returned to their respective villages.