Month: May 2008

Somebody says something (finally)!


The Moscow Patriarchate’s representative in Europe concerned with oppression of Christians in Islamic world

Brussels, May 26, Interfax – Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European International Organizations Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and all Austria urges to protects interests of Christian population in Islamic countries, the Representation’s press-service has reported to Interfax-Religion.

Bishop Hilarion named Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Philippines among the countries where Christians were persecuted when the bishop was speaking at the European encounter Shared Values for a Changing Europe – Contributions of Cultures and Religions in Rovereto, Italy.

“Kidnapping and murders of Christian clerics have become the reality of every day life in Iraq. Converting into Christianity may result in death penalty in Afghanistan. There is no Christian church in Saudi Arabia,” the Moscow Patriarchate representative stated.

Speaking about Europe, Bishop Hilarion drew participants’ attention to Kosovo where the churches were violently destroyed and thousands of Christians, bereft of home, were consigned to exile.

According to him, the occupied part of Cyprus remains in tight situation as the churches are destroyed there and Christian population suffers badly.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s representative pointed out that Turkey negated interests of Christian population and mentioned as an instance that Turkish authorities refused to open a theological school on Khalkis Island in spite of persistent requests of the Constantinople Patriarchate.

Bishop Hilarion hope that Christian-Islamic dialogue in compliance with words of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia expressed in his letter to 138 Muslim leaders will not only work out theological questions but influence actual situation with Christian population in Islamic countries.

This definitely echoes Pope Benedict’s comments almost two years ago, summed up here:

Benedict XVI undoubtedly wants to achieve better relations with Islam, but there is an important proviso.

It can be summed up in a single word: reciprocity. It means that if Muslims want to enjoy religious freedom in the West, then Christians should have an equal right to follow their faith in Islamic states, without fear of persecution.

This needs to become the mantra of European, American and other Christian leaders who live in security from large-scale persecution. Muslims make their feelings very clear every time somebody does something even slightly offensive. I don’t expect Christians to riot in the streets or issue death threats/fatwas, as this is one of the essential differences between Christianity and Islam; however, there needs to be some equal but opposite outcry in Western and/or Christian countries when much greater atrocities than cartoons and misinterpreted speeches occur, such as priest beheadings, bishop kidnappings, child crucifixions, and 12-year-old girl gang-rapings. They will take us much more seriously if we actually act like we care.

Islam has a built-in system of government and law, called Sharia, upon which all governments and legal systems in majority-Muslim countries are, to greater or lesser extents, based. Islam, therefore, is just as much political theory as religion. Just as there were crackdowns on and close observations of the Communist Party during the Cold War and the American Nazi Party during World War II, there should be similar constraints put upon Islamic groups in America. CAIR is a good volunteer with which to get this started.

Islam is also a religion that believes, similar to other Western religions like Christianity and Judaism, in a universal brotherhood of believers. With this and the above in mind, I don’t think that it is stepping too terribly far out of line to advocate a policy of reciprocity. If Muslim nations refuse to meet the basic demands issued by Christian nations, namely, that Christians within Islamic nations be allowed to worship freely, build their own churches, religiously educate their children and otherwise freely and openly practice their faith, similar constraints should be placed upon their Muslim brethren living in Christian nations. If it is a crime in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace and capitol of Islam, to carry a Bible in public, wear a Cross, or possess a Rosary, why should it be legal in the Christian world to carry a copy of the Koran, wear a crescent, or possess a misbaha?

This may sound harsh. The obvious (and obviously true) response to all of this is: we’re better than them! It’s a bit Machiavellian, but the ends here justify the means. The bigger, stronger, persecution-free Christians of the West need to stand up somehow for their oppressed brethren living under Muslim rule. Otherwise, the Muslims will continue to view Christians as infinitely divided and weak and unconcerned. And the conquest will continue.

When I do my own will

“An anchorite was living close to a monastery, and let a very austere life. Now it happened that some visitors came to the monastery and constrained him to eat outside the proper time. Afterwards the brothers said to him, ‘Abba, were you not grieved by that?’ He said to them, ‘I am grieved only when I do my own will.’ “ – From The Desert Fathers.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: St Isaac the Syrian, a theologian of love and mercy

Isaac was quite resentful of the widespread opinion that the majority of people will be punished in hell, and only a small group of the chosen will delight in Paradise. He is convinced that, quite the contrary, the majority of people will find themselves in the Kingdom of heaven, and only a few sinners will go to Gehenna, and even they only for the period of time which is necessary for their repentance and remission of sins: ‘By the device of grace the majority of humankind will enter the Kingdom of heaven without the experience of Gehenna. But this is apart from those who, because of their hardness of heart and utter abandonment to wickedness and the lusts, fail to show remorse in suffering for their faults and their sins, and because these people have not been disciplined at all. For God’s holy Nature is so good and compassionate that it is always seeking to find some small means of putting us in the right, how He can forgive human beings their sins – like the case of the tax collector who was put in the right by the intensity of his prayer (Luke 18:14), or like the case of a woman with two small coins (Mark 12:42-43; Luke 21:2-3), or the man who received forgiveness on the Cross (Luke 23:40-43). For God wishes for our salvation, and not for reasons to torment us’ (II/40,12).

The teaching on universal salvation, which is so explicitly preached by Isaac the Syrian, has never been approved by the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, Origenist idea of the apokatastasis ton panton (restoration of all), which has certain resemblance with this teaching, was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. However, we would not completely identify Isaac’s idea of the universal salvation with Origenist ‘restoration of all’. In Origen, universal restoration is not the end of the world, but a passing phase from one created world to another, which will come into existence after the present world has come to its end. This idea is alien to Christian tradition and unknown to Isaac. The latter is more dependent on other ancient writers, notably Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus, who also developed the idea of universal salvation, yet in a way different from Origen’s. On the other hand, it would not be fair to say that Isaac simply borrowed the ideas of his predecessors and inserted them into his own writings. Isaac’s eschatological optimism and his belief in universal salvation are ultimate outcomes of his personal theological vision, whose central idea is that of God as love. Around this idea the whole of his theological system is shaped.

Nevertheless, Isaac’s teaching on universal salvation evokes the following questions: what is the sense of the whole drama of human history, if both good and evil are ultimately to be found on an equal footing in the face of God’s mercifulness? What is the sense of sufferings, ascetic labour and prayer, if sinners will be sooner or later equated with the righteous? Besides, how far do Isaac’s opinions correspond to the Christian tradition and to the teaching of the Gospel, in particular, to the Parable of the Last Judgment, where the question concerns the separation of the ‘sheep’ and the ‘goats’?

Read the entire paper here.

The War Against Christianity

by Hussein Al-Alak, Chairman of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign [original article with pictures here and here]

While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, I know from experience that what he says about what’s going on in Iraq is accurate.

April 25, 2008

There is a war against Iraq’s Christians taking place, at the behest of two allegedly Christ-loving regimes and one supposed Islamic government, with one commonality being their need to hide behind the walls of Jericho to carry out the persecution of men, women and children.

How else can any one describe the systematic ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s Christians, who were born and raised in the land between two rivers, the land which gave birth to the founder of the three major religions and whose lineage of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is now the land which being destroyed at the hands of “god fearing” heathens.

It has been five years and still silence is the golden fleece for Britain and America. They have chosen to ignore the murders – the beheadings, the attacks, the forced displacement and increases in taxation upon the Christians for refusing to convert, the intimidation by militias upon women for not wearing a headscarf .

Most Christians in Iraq are Chaldeans, members of an Eastern Rite denomination that recognizes the pope’s authority. Other sizable denominations include the Assyrian Catholic Church, which traces its roots to the 1st century. Iraqi Christians are also affiliated with the Church of the East, the Anglican Church and other Protestant faiths. Pope Benedict XVI and President Bush said that in a meeting last week they discussed the “precarious state” of Christian communities in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Bishop of Mosul reported in 2006 that a “fourteen year old boy was crucified in Al Basra” and how members of the US/UK trained Iraqi Police forces, have assaulted “civilian passers-by with anti-Christian and racist slurs” – grotesque acts which apparently Britain takes seriously within its own borders, when addressing “institutional racism” in the police force and cases relating to honour killings against its own civilians.

But how the West has turned the other cheek, when Paulos Iskandar the Syriac-Orthodox priest was beheaded in October 2006, and how they failed to act when reports emerged from Iraqi newspaper Azzaman, when they reported that US troops were taking over churches and using them for military purposes, with over fifty percent of Iraq’s Christians believed to have already fled.

In March this year, Paulos Faraj Rahho, archbishop of Mosul’s Chaldean community, was found dead after being abducted. This month, Youssef Adel, an Assyrian Orthodox priest, was fatally shot in a drive-by attack in Karrada, one of Baghdad’s safest neighbourhoods and home to Abdal’s Holy Catholic Assyrian Church

Let’s not forget the looting of churches, the bomb attacks carried out against congregations. Let’s remember the priests, deacons and other members of the Christian Church who have become the victims of sectarian kidnappings, and how militias have taken their hatred of a multi-national society and left their victims’ heads on the doorsteps of God’s holy “house”.

The Western response has been typically quiet, and in an effort to emphasise its multi-cultural credentials, the Socialist Worker reported how the, “highlight” of one Stop the War Coalition demonstration in “Red” Ken Livingston’s London was Sheikh Zagani, foreign affairs spokesperson for Moqtada al-Sadr, who under the noses of New Labour, MI5, MI6 and the Foreign Office announced to 100,000 non-Burkha-wearing British people that, “We are the voice of humanity,” but failed to mention the murders of Christians, Palestinians, Shiite, Sunni, the destruction of ancient sites, the collapse of the health service, the murder of academics, and growing illiteracy.

Asia News has also reported that the Iranian-backed Mehdi Army death squads, have been threatening women into the forced wearing of the “veil”, with IRIN reporting how the Mehdi have also been responsible for the “hunting” down of women for “religious reasons or because they had criticised the militants” or, as one resident put it, “They accuse them [the women victims] of different things such as prostitution, or of being informants for Iraqi and US forces, or of not wearing a headscarf or for wearing Western clothes,”

Al-Sadr’s forces have also been responsible for the murders of homosexuals, which they claim to be “sexual perverts”, along with having murdered members of Iraq’s Palestinians community. Unlike the Mehdi Army, which was brought to Iraq in 2003, the Palestinian community has been resident in the country since the creation of the state of Israel.

It is perhaps hardly surprising that the US and UK should fail to act upon the plight of the Christians, when most people in “liberated” Britain don’t even know that under Saddam Hussain, the various religions were celebrated and not persecuted, and that many in the US still think that Saddam was behind the 9/11 twin towers attack.

At present, Iraq’s Christians are one of the few communities left which do not have their own army to protect themselves, something that maybe the Christian community should consider as being essential, if only to assist and save the lives of religious minorities against slaughter in present-day Iraq.

Slander

If you hear or see someone sin, keep from slandering him and judging him. You tell someone else about him, he tells it to another, the other to the third, the third to the fourth, and so everyone will come to know and be tempted. And they will judge the one who sinned, which is a very serious thing. And you will be the cause of all this, by publishing your brother’s sin. Slanderers are like lepers that harm others by their foul odor, or like those stricken by the plague who carry their disease from place to place and destroy others. Keep yourself, then, from slandering your neighbor, lest you sin gravely and give someone else cause for sin.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk