On the First Night of Hanukkah this year, I had the great joy of being Jerusalem and, more specifically, in the vibrant neighbourhood of Nachlaot.
I joined some friends outdoors, warm beverages in hand, and we sat outdoors enjoying the light of the hanukkiah. Throughout Jerusalem, there is a big emphasis on publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah, as has always been the aim but as has not always been the possibility on the holiday.
After some time, we began a stroll throughout the neighbourhood. Every few doors, we came upon families lighting their hanukkiot, saying the blessings, singing songs and playing instruments, serving soup and latkes to their neighbours, and enjoying being in the Jewish homeland.
On this feast day of Saint Mother Teresa, I read the address that she gave upon being awarded the Templeton Prize and came upon this striking anecdote:
“And in one of the places in Melbourne I visited an old man and nobody ever knew that he existed. And I saw his room in a terrible state, and I wanted to clean his house, his room, and he kept on saying ‘I’m all right!’ but I repeated the same word, ‘You will be more all right if you will allow me to clean your place’, and at the end he allowed me. And there in that room there was a beautiful lamp covered with dirt of many years, and I asked him ‘Why do you not light your lamp?’ Then I asked him, ‘Will you light the lamp if the Sisters come to see you?’ He said, ‘Yes, if I hear a human voice I will do it.’ And the other day he sent me word, ‘Tell my friend the light she has lit in my life is still burning.’”
How many in our world, particularly after this painful season of mandatory isolation, also need to hear a human voice for the light of their life to be rekindled in their soul?
This evening a dear friend and I reunited in Toronto and spontaneously decided to attend Vespers at St. Moses & St. Katherine Coptic Orthodox Church.
The evening prayer and raising of incense was set to begin at 7:00 p.m.
Aside from the priest, two young men chanting liturgical responses, and one woman from the community, my friend and I were the only ones there.
Before beginning vespers, Fr. John Boutros came over to give us a brief explanation of the prayer.
“The purpose of vespers is start wondering now: where has my life gone? It’s a journey toward reconciliation in preparation for the liturgy the following day. Accordingly, people will usually go to confession after Vespers and during the Midnight Praises on the vigil of the Divine Liturgy. As the sun sets, you are invited to ponder: What am I doing? Where did the light go? Where did my life go?”
Fr. John also gave the analogy of working on a paper or a project into the late hours of the night saying, “When you’re working late at night, you can lose sense of the time. The purpose of these evening liturgies is partly to enter into the timelessness of eternity.”
This is the structure of Vespers in the Coptic Orthodox Church:
Whenever I read about recently committed antisemitic acts in the news, my heart and mind immediately goes especially to Holocaust survivors. What must it be like to survive the Holocaust and then to be witnessing antisemitism in your own city in the twenty-first century?
Two years ago, after the synagogue shooting near San Diego, I visited my friend Faigie Libman. Faigie is one of two survivors with whom I travelled on a Holocaust study trip to Germany and Poland.
In my clip with her, Faigie says that her motto, which she hopes will go on her tombstone is, “If you have hatred in your heart, there’s no room for love.”
Take a look at this clip. It’s such a good reminder that darkness is best combatted with light and hatred is best combatted with love.