Last fall in one of those supernaturally charged, numinous moments so rare they become legend, a war was halted because of a 40-foot statue of Jesus.
According to eyewitness accounts (which have been perfectly acceptable until the advent of Reuters), hostilities in the Syrian civil war stopped dead for three days, enabling the rise of the massive statue on Syria’s Cherubim Mountain.
Armenian sculptor Artush Papoyan was commissioned to fashion the grand figure, elevating Jesus to 105 feet on its high base on a monastery. Papoyan is well known in this part of the world for his massive religious and patriotically themed works.
Antique villages squatting at the base of the Qalamoun Mountains are among the oldest, most entrenched “Christian” areas of the world. The town of Ma’aloula, which was devastated by Islamic terrorists, is one of the last places where Aramaic (Jesus’ spoken language) is still commonly used.
Papoyan wondered at changes in Syria since he was first approached years ago by Russian benefactors led by businessman Yuri Gavrilov. When he first began to cast his dense bronze elements, the ancient Cherubim Monastery was quietly devoted to religious life. If not idyllic, the refuge in the Qalamoun Mountains was a place of rough-earned peace. After three years work, Papoyan’s Jesus was raised over sea of war and carnage he and the project’s backers never imagined and didn’t want.
Their project titled “I Have Come to Save the World,” was considered a peace offering, ironically enough.
In a text sent to WND Papoyan explained, “I know that the statue ‘I Come to Save the World’ to dedicate to Muslims, because Christ is one of their prophets.
“At least it is one of the purpose of customers,” he claimed.
Organized by St. Paul and St. George Foundation in London, the project is now directed by Samir al-Ghadban. Tragically Gavrilov died at 49, just as the statue began its arduous move.
The foundation itself is shrouded in mystery. Listed as a charity supporting “deserving projects in the field of science and animal welfare,” its officials hail from England and Russia and have no documentation of funds. Al-Ghadban claims the majority of financing for the project came from private donors.
Papoyan describes his life in Armenia as unashamedly Christian and a member of the Armenian apostolic church. He works with sons and grandchildren in an extended clan of artisans. The sculptor proudly relates that Armenians were the first to become an officially Christian state in 301, almost a century before Rome followed.
One of Papoyan's works commemorates national hero Vardan Mamikonyan, who simultaneously fought military and spiritual campaigns for Armenia in the fifth century. The soldier/saint's death in battle against the Persians re-established their right to Christian worship. It also betokened a future 1,500-year stretch of vigilance to keep it, especially after the establishment of Islam some 200 years later.
Ties between Syrian, Armenian and Russian Orthodox believers are stronger than national identities and extremely old. Syrian Christians are finding refuge in Armenia, where so many have fled that entire cities such as "New Alleppo" are created for the exiles. Locals, consequently, aren't surprised that a statue is fabricated in Armenia, shipped to Lebanon, dragged by tractors across a war zone and assembled by cranes while workers dodge bullets and bombs.
The Russia-Syria-Armenia connection is complex and quickly evolving in the region. Observers are puzzling over recent events in realms, spiritual, military and artistic, as Putin buddies with the archbishops and extends a hand of protection over the embattled Orthodox of the Middle East. How times have changed for an ex-KGB official.
This particular statue comes with a certain aura of political overlay, although that was never the intention of the sculptor. Director al-Ghadban narrates how the idea was "blessed by Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and the Middle East."
Ringed by Adam and Eve, Christ is trampling on a snake representing symbolic evil. Cherubim Mountain was chosen in particular as cherubs (or angels) are accepted by Christians and Muslims.
Far from being accepted as a peace overture, however, militant Muslims see this Jesus as a 105-foot threat. Yes, big statues infuriate them as do so many things. The size for one thing is totally unacceptable in a Muslim majority land where Shariah law prescribes things Christian or Jewish be small, short and non-imposing or non-existent.
St. Paul and St. George Foundation makes the astonishing claim, "This statue that can be well seen from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel is the symbol of peace not only in Syria but also in the whole Middle East Region."
Peace is another item the Islamic religion does not exactly push, and the project gave militants another excuse to unleash their surplus bullets on Christian monasteries, convents and civilians in general.
Aldin Hadzic writing in taqwamagazine.com is an example of the vicious mindset enabling these latest atrocities. Ignoring the miraculous three-day truce and its significance, Hadzic is "completely outraged" because "statues of prophets are completely forbidden in Islam."
Hadzic continues to formally "curse" Christians and others who dared allow three days of peace: "May Allah destroy the enemies of Allah in that area. May He aid those fighting in His path and destroy those who cause chaos and mischief in the land."
I am completely outraged that some pompous twit thinks a Christian village that existed before his faux-god was even invented should be dictated to by his "outrage."
What this portends I'll leave to others to unravel, but common decency demands respect for Jesus from all religions in one of the first Christianized regions, thanks to either St. Peter or St. Thomas (both credited for early conversions there).
Truly the Islamic Crusaders are set upon Christendom again, but this time with aid of the Western press that carefully hid the slaughter and routing of civilian Christians in Maaloula until it was accomplished.
Likewise, there was little sympathy shown for the defenders of 1,600 years of Christian tradition and the lives of inhabitants at Saidnaya, as militants across the Islamic world descended in an attempt to finish off the monastery, which was forced to become an ersatz military post.
Saidnaya's inhabitants drafted the assistance of Assad's military to survive the bombardment, thus confusing reporters for CNN and the New York Times, who routinely cite convents as "non-civilian targets." Someone please send them a dictionary.
The monastery and statue overlook villages devastated by foreign Islamic fighters, partially backed by the U.S. Not content to merely murder and displace, the "rebels" seem maddened by the sight of "Jesus" with open and accepting arms. They are just as enraged by Christians who are actually fighting to protect their families and are not accustomed to such opposition. And in John Kerry's world, Syrian army troops protecting this village, monastery and town are our enemies.
All the al-Qaida backed militants combined weren't able to destroy the small enclave, something al-Ghadban considers a "miracle."
Our faith doesn't depend on the survival of statues or churches, but it's a joy to see the good guys win for once, especially in this part of the world. And if war can cease for three days for a statue, we wait for the day it will stop altogether.
SOURCES: www.foxnews.com / http://levantreport.com / http://www.israelnationalnews.com / http://www.thenational.ae / http://www.christianfreedom.org / Komsomol'skaya Pravda / http://www.taqwamagazine.com