Per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians noth­ing new in Mid­dle East

The Signal - - Faith - TERRY MATTINGLY

Once again, Cop­tic Chris­tians faced bloody bod­ies in the sands of Egypt, as ter­ror­ists killed seven pil­grims who had just prayed at the Monastery of St. Sa­muel.

No one was sur­prised when the Is­lamic State took credit for that Novem­ber at­tack south of Cairo. After all, 28 pil­grims were mas­sa­cred near the same spot in 2017.

In Syria, Or­tho­dox be­liev­ers marked the fifth an­niver­sary of the kid­nap­ping of Metropoli­tan Paul Yazigi, of the An­ti­ochian Or­tho­dox Church, and Metropoli­tan Yo­hanna Ibrahim, of the Syr­iac Or­tho­dox Church, who were try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate the re­lease of priests seized weeks ear­lier. Today, their fol­low­ers know less about the iden­tity of the at­tack­ers than they did in 2013.

In the Nin­eveh plains of Iraq, Chris­tians slowly re­turned to com­mu­ni­ties in which their an­ces­tors had wor­shipped since the first cen­tury after Christ. Zero Chris­tians re­mained in Mo­sul after the Is­lamic State group de­manded that they con­vert to Is­lam or pay the jizya head tax, while liv­ing with bru­tal per­se­cu­tion.

But noth­ing re­mained of the 1,400-year-old Dair Mar-Elia (Saint Eli­jah’s Monastery) after in­vaders blew it up twice and then bull­dozed the rub­ble.

Try to imag­ine the faith it re­quires for be­liev­ers to carry on after all this has taken place, said the Prince of Wales, speak­ing at a West­min­ster Abbey ser­vice last month cel­e­brat­ing the lives of Chris­tians who en­dure per­se­cu­tion in the Mid­dle East.

“Time and again, I have been deeply hum­bled and pro­foundly moved by the ex­tra­or­di­nary grace and ca­pac­ity for for­give­ness that I have seen in those who have suf­fered so much,” said Prince Charles, who has worked to build con­tacts in the an­cient Chris­tian East.

“For­give­ness, as many of you know far bet­ter than I, is not a pas­sive act, or sub­mis­sion. Rather, it is an act of supreme courage, of a re­fusal to be de­fined by the sin against you . ... It is one thing to be­lieve in God who for­gives. It is quite an­other to take that ex­am­ple to heart and ac­tu­ally to for­give, with the whole heart, ‘those who tres­pass against you’ so griev­ously.”

‘Old news’ in 2018

The per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians and other mi­nori­ties in the Mid­dle East was not one of 2018’s big news sto­ries. In­stead, this pa­rade of hor­rors be­came a kind of “old news” that rarely reached the prime head­lines of­fered by elite news­rooms.

The goal at West­min­ster Abbey was to re­mem­ber what has hap­pened at the ground level in places like the Nin­eveh plains in north­ern Iraq. Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury Justin Welby also took part in this un­usual event, which was at­tended by lead­ers of 13 Mid­dle East­ern church bod­ies, along with high-rank­ing Bri­tish politi­cos and diplo­mats.

True per­se­cu­tion, Welby stressed, is “some­thing that iso­lates. Those out­side its ex­pe­ri­ence can­not say, ‘I know how you feel,’ be­cause they don’t. To live in a coun­try or in a so­ci­ety where a gov­ern­ment, or an armed group or even a mi­nor­ity of peo­ple con­sider that you should be con­signed to obliv­ion be­cause of your faith in Christ is an ex­pe­ri­ence that is with­out par­al­lel.”

Prince Charles praised the Do­mini­can Sis­ters of St. Cather­ine of Siena, in­clud­ing one sis­ter who lit­er­ally drove an evac­u­a­tion van as the Is­lamic State group ad­vanced on the town of Qaraqosh — part of a wave of 100,000 Chris­tians flee­ing Nin­eveh four years ago. The sis­ters, he said, de­scribed “their de­spair at the ut­ter de­struc­tion they found” when they re­turned last year.

“They put their faith in God, and today ... nearly half of those dis­placed (have) gone back, to re­build their homes and their com­mu­ni­ties,” said Prince Charles. “Churches, schools, or­phan­ages and busi­nesses are rising from the rub­ble, and the fab­ric of that so­ci­ety, which had been so cru­elly torn apart, is be­ing grad­u­ally re­paired.”

Those who dared to re­turn wres­tled with “all the doubts and fears in our hearts,” Do­mini­can Sis­ter Nazek Matty said. There is an ur­gent need, she stressed, for se­ri­ous rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts — with gov­ern­ment sup­port — with lo­cal Mus­lims.

“Truth­fully the re­turn of Chris­tians, de­spite ev­ery­thing, is based upon our de­ter­mi­na­tion to live our be­liefs and tra­di­tions in the place where we be­long, and where we feel deeply con­nected to our roots,” she said. Ul­ti­mately, “we be­lieve that the restora­tion of our com­mu­nity greatly de­pends on our trust in the risen Lord who promised to be with us al­ways.”

Terry Mattingly is the edi­tor of Get Re­li­gion. org and Se­nior Fel­low for Me­dia and Re­li­gion at The King’s Col­lege in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Ten­nessee.

“(Per­se­cu­tion) ... is an ex­pe­ri­ence with­out par­al­lel.” Justin Welby, Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury

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