Friday, May 5, 2017

A. V. Koshy writes

Holy Land

My kingdom is not of this world
as the Kingdom of God
is within me

and in the midst of
those who are peaceful
with me, when I am among them
but if I ever went on a hajj
the whole universe and world would be my fire-temple
and papal see.


  1. [During his trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate] Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.... But now my kingdom is from another place."
    --John 18:36 New International Version
    The Holy See (Sancta Sedes) is an independent sovereign entity, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic church. Though it has authority over all Catholic organizations worldwide, its sovereign territory is the Status Civitatis Vaticanae, a 44 hectare (110 acre) enclave in Roma, with a population of just 1,000 -- the smallest nation in the world. It is the only entity of public international law that has diplomatic relations with nearly every country in the world. It is ruled by the pope and administered by the Roman Curia, with the Cardinal Secretary of State as its chief administrator, nine Congregations, three Tribunals, eleven Pontifical Councils, and seven Pontifical Commissions. The Vatican City itself only dates to 1929, but the Holy See originated millennia ago. The word "see" comes from the Latin "sedes" (seat). Every see is considered holy, but when used with the definite article it refers specifically to the see of the Bishop of Rome, the successors of the first pope, St. Peter.

  2. The Hajj ("to intend a journey") is a mandatory week-long religious duty; all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey and able to support their family during their absence are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) at least once as a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah. It occurs in the last month of the Islamic calendar. According to the "Qur'an" (2:124-127 and 22:27-30) in ca. 2000 BCE Allah ordered Ibrahim (Abraham, the progenitor of the Arab and Jewish peoples, who fulfilled all the commandments and trials by which Allah nurtured him throughout his lifetime) to abandon his wife Hagar and their infant son Ismail (Ishmael) in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hagar desperately ran seven times between the two hills of al-Safa and al-Marwah, but when she returned she found the baby scratching the ground with his leg, and a water fountain sprang up underneath his foot. Ibrahim expelled paganism from Arabia and Canaan, spiritually purifting both places as well as physically sanctifying the houses of worship. Allah commanded Ibrahim and Ishmael to rebuild the Ka'aba (the cube-shaped building toward which all Muslims pray five times a day, originally built by Adam but destroyed in the Great Flood in the time of Nūḥ‎ [Noah]), to invite pilgrims to worship there, and to establish the rites of pilgrimage which are still practiced. In the Mecca area Ibrahim is referred to as "Khalilullah" (the Friend of Allah) or just as "Khalil" (The Friend). Then the archangel Jibril (Gabriel) brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to the Ka'aba. During the jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic Arabia) the Ka'aba was surrounded by pagan idols, which Ibrahim's descendant Muhammad destroyed in 630 when he reconsecrated the building to Allah. Two years later he performed his only hajj and instructed his followers on the proper rites. The pilgrims are considered to be in ihram, a special spiritual state in which they wear two white sheets of seamless cloth and abstain from certain actions. Each hajji walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka'aba, runs back and forth between the two hills, drinks from the Zamzam Well, stands vigil in the plains of Mt. Arafat, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and stones the devil by symbollically throwing rocks at three pillars. They then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice (qurban) to commemorate Ibrahim's bravery during his trial when he nearly sacrificed his son Iṣḥāq (Isaac) at Allah's command, and celebrate the three-day festival of Eid al-Adha. The Qur’an, in the Muslim perspective, merely confirms or reinforces the laws of pilgrimage, and the Hajj is a way to return to the perfection of Ibrahim's faith. Mecca is frequently cited as the "City of Ibrahim," because his reformation of the purified monotheistic faith took place purely in Mecca, and in their canonical prayer every day Muslims ask Allah to bless Muhammad's family as he blessed Ibrahim's.

  3. In the Zoroastrian religion, fire (Atar) and clean water (Aban) are agents of ritual purity. Clean white ash is necessary for the purification ceremonies, so Zoroastrians' place of worship is a fire temple ("agiyari" in Gujarati; "dar be-mehr" ["Mithra's Gate" or "Mithra's Court"] in Parsi; all major Zoroastrian rituals were solemnized between sunrise and noon, the time of day especially under Mithra's protection). In 2010 there were 50 fire temples in Mumbai, 100 in the rest of India, and 27 in the rest of the world. The cult of fire is much younger than the religion, dating to the 4th century BCE, roughly contemporaneously with the introduction of Atar as a divinity, perhaps instituted in opposition to the image/shrine cults inherited from the Babylonians. And the temple cult is even later; in the mid-5th century BCE Herodotus reported that the Zoroastrians worshipped to the open sky and ascended mounds to light their fires. By the 3rd century CE, miracles were said to happen at three "Great Fires" or "Royal Fires" that had existed since creation and that Ohrmazd had brought forth on the back of the ox Srishok to propagate the faith, dispel doubt, and protect all humankind. Of them, Adur Farnbag ("the fire Glory-Given") was the most venerated because it was the earthly representative of the Atar Spenishta (the "Holiest Fire" of Yasna 17.11), "the one burning in Paradise in the presence of Ohrmazd," according to an Avestan commentary on that verse. (Avestan, closely related to Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language, is the language in which the "Avesta," the Zoroastrian scripture, was written.) However, during the Parthian era (250 BCE–226 CE) Zoroastrians still either worshiped in a bagin or ayazan (a sanctuary dedicated to a specific divinity, constructed in honor of the patron saint or angel of a particular family, which included an icon or effigy of the honored) or an atroshan, a "place of burning fire;" during the Sassanid dynasty (226–650) the shrines continued to exist but the statues were banned and replaced by fire altars. A local Atash-i Adaran, "Fire of Fires," was relit annually, but even then only the Atash-i Vahram ("victorious fire") was kept burning continuously, and the fires had special names, depending on which of the three classes they belonged to, but the structures that housed them did not. The establishment of an Atash-i Vahram involves the gathering of 16 different "kinds of fire" (gathered from 16 different sources, including lightning, fire from a cremation pyre, fire from trades which need a furnace, and hearth fires), each of which is purified before it joins the others; 32 priests (whose sole duties are to tend to the fires; they never preach or hold sernons) are required for the consecration ceremony, which can take up to a year to complete. Veneration of the greater fires is addressed only to the fire itself (after its consecration, only the "Atash Nyashes," the litany to the fire in the Younger Avestan, is ever recited before it). Except for the "Fire of Warharan," established in the late 7th century, none of the eternal fires are more than 250 years old.


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