Is This the End for Middle Eastern Christians?

A recent article by Douglas Murray in The Spectator asks a pressing question: Why are we abandoning the Middle East’s Christians to Isis?

Murray’s answer is largely narrative. He attended a Syriac Christian church in the UK on a Sunday and spoke to the people there. Many are recent refugees, having fled as ISIS descended on their ancestral homes.

“If the Christians of Iraq and Syria are to survive,” Murray suggests, “they may have to do it” in the UK and other EU countries.

Emigration to the West presents itself, however tentatively, as the only realistic response to the devastating personal stories Murray hears: threats, fleeing in the night, desecration of Christian holy sites, homelessness, hunger, and martyrdom. “Convert, leave, or be killed” — those are the options ISIS gives Christians in the areas it controls. Sometimes even conversion isn’t enough: converts have their heads sawn off immediately after pronouncing the Shahada: There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his Prophet.

Although the situation has been bad for years, especially for Christian minorities in Iraq, 2014 has devolved into something much worse: persecution has become full-scale genocide.

Accordingly, the Christians refugees that Murray interviews cannot understand the West’s inaction.

They do not understand why the world is ignoring them, nor why a historically Christian country like Britain has been so unmoved by the near-complete eradication of Christianity in the continent that gave it birth. As one points out, the Yazidis lived with them for hundreds of years. They were their neighbours and friends. So why was the world spurred to action by the effort to commit genocide against the Yazidis and not the genocide against the Christians?

Faced with silence in the midst of genocide, one can’t help but raise the prospect of asylum:

 Alongside the amazement at the world’s indifference comes a question: why can’t Iraq’s Christians all get sanctuary in the West? If most EU countries took in 10,000 Iraqi Christians, they could all live in safety.

Is this not self-defeating, I ask them? Would this not simply speed up the end of this ancient church and ancient community? A woman looks at me straight and says simply, ‘It is the end anyway.’

Here the curtain closes on Murray’s narrative. It’s a chilling ending, hard to avoid if all one sees are the stories of desperation. Yes, they are there — and in abundance. But so too is courage, resolve, and Christian solidarity.

In a stirring speech in the United States just days ago, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch expressed his vision in no uncertain terms:

Let our people live! Let Syria live! Let Lebanon live! Let Iraq live! Let Jordan live! Let wounded Palestine be healed and let her live! Let Egypt live! Some say that the crisis in Syria has only a domestic character, that it is civil war. But nobody in the world really believes that this supposed domestic character of the crisis can explain the obvious foreign character of it. I will be more frank: our sons are killed with bombs sent from outside. Spare our sons from the brainwashing of extreme ideologies. Let them see efforts to establish peace. They do not need ships of war, nor ships for transportation abroad. They need an olive branch and a will toward peace.

While in the United States, the Patriarch is taking his message to the Secretary General of the United Nations and the White House. Even though he is a figure of international standing, the Patriarch’s experience of affliction is immediate and personal: his own brother, also a bishop in the Church of Antioch, is still missing nearly two years after being kidnapped by extremists.

Despite the danger to their own persons and families, many Christian clergy stay with the remnants of their flocks. They will not abandon the land where Christianity began or its people.

The price required to continue their ministry is undoubtedly high. His Eminence Mor Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul, wept during a recent interview, as he described the conditions of his flock. Yet he remains.

Further afield, but still aware of their fellow clergy’s resolve, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a Joint Declaration at the Phanar during the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Thronal Feast on November 30. The two Christian leaders wrote:

We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes. It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many. As Saint Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). This is the law of the Christian life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of suffering. Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity. The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer, but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community.

Facing danger and fulling aware of the genocide now occurring, the Christian leaders of the Middle East — Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic — as well as their brethren in Europe, are not looking for “ships of war, nor ships for transportation abroad,” but peace and witness.

Will the world hear them?

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.


Seraphim Danckaert

Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


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