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.
Welcome to “This Week in Orthodoxy,” the world’s only online video newscast focused on events in the life of the Orthodox Church.
Today we’ll be bringing you several stories related to Christianity in the Middle East.
Segment 1: News from around the Globe
Christian Leaders Call Attention to Persecution in Middle East
Our top story: A broad array of American Christian leaders joined together on Capitol Hill on May 7 to issue a “pledge of solidarity and call to action” on behalf of the suffering churches of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
OCN’s Executive Director, Fr. Christopher Metropulos, was among the more than 180 Christian leaders who signed the call to action and attended the event. Other Orthodox signatories included Fr. Nathanael Symeonides, Fr. Martin Ritsi, and Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, among others.
The statement and press conference were organized by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), co-chairs of the bipartisan Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.
“It has become abundantly clear that the brutal extremist campaigns are resulting in the eradication of non-Muslim religious communities,” the statement explained, “or, for those who remain, denying them from having any influence or even basic rights within their society’s political, social or cultural spheres. While there is no apparent organization or coordination among the various violent actors from nation to nation, their actions are leading to one conclusion: the very real possibility that Christianity may soon be exiled from the region of its origin.”
Among various suggestions, the call to action advocates for a special U.S. envoy to be appointed, in addition to a regional review of U.S. foreign aid to ensure recipients uphold principles of pluralism and religious freedom.
The violence, intimidation, and kidnapping of Christians is now commonplace, especially in Iraq and Syria, where even high-ranking Church leaders are targets of oppression.
More than a year ago, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (brother of His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch) and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria were kidnapped by Islamist extremists. As of this filming, no solid news has been received of their whereabouts, health, or potential safe return.
Destruction of Ancient Christian Churches in Homs Confirmed
Our next story concerns news from Syria, where forces favorable to local Christians have now retaken the city of Old Homs, leading to the discovery that 11 historic Christian churches are either completely destroyed or very heavily damaged.
According to a recent report in the Lebanese The Daily Star newspaper, the churches in the old city were robbed and desecrated by the Islamic militants who had previously controlled the region.
A priest is reported as saying: “A true miracle happened at Holy Martyr Elian’s Orthodox Church in Homs (6th century). The gunmen set it on fire. However, the fire did not touch the ancient icons on the walls—they just slightly darkened.”
The most famous Christian site in Old Homs, the Cathedral of the Holy Theotokos, which houses a relic of the Belt of the Theotokos, remains intact, thanks to its thick walls, but its bell tower has been badly damaged.
New Book Features Sources from the Arab Christian World
For our last story, we’d like to call our viewers’ attention to a new book that might offer some deeper context and help make sense of the other stories we’ve reported this week.
The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700-1700, edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, has recently appeared on bookshelves and is starting to garner attention in Orthodox circles.
As the book’s summary notes, Arabic was among the first languages in which the Gospel was preached. The Book of Acts mentions Arabs as being present at the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, where they heard the Christian message in their native tongue.
Nevertheless, it’s sometimes assumed that in the wake of the Islamic conquests, Christianity in the Middle East declined drastically, leaving its original heartland devoid of an indigenous Christian presence.
The translations in this new book show just how vibrant Arab Christianity has remained throughout history, producing Arabic biblical commentaries, lives of the saints, theological treatises, devotional poetry, and philosophy.
As today’s Arab Christians are driven from their homes, Orthodoxy’s living connection to the places that have maintained Christian faith from the very beginning is now in serious danger of disappearing forever.
The dire plight of Christians in the Middle East is one of the issues Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew hope to address in their meeting in Jerusalem later this month. We’ll be bringing you more coverage of that historic event next week.
That’s it for “This Week in Orthodoxy.” Until next time, let’s go forth in peace.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.