Friday, June 28, 2013

Give Them Rest, O Lord!

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, I was reading through messages posted on one of the Orthodox discussion groups I subscribe to and came across a message which told of the beheading of a Syrian Orthodox bishop and two other Christians by Islamist extremists in Syria. The message contained a link to a video which shows the actual beheading. You will find the link to the video at the bottom of this article. I must caution you however: the video is very graphic and very disturbing. I strongly advise that this video not be viewed in the presence of children or those who may not be able to handle its contents.
The bishop and the two others with him are surrounded by a mob and are brutally beheaded with a small combat knife. As each beheading takes place, the mob revels in the acts and in Arabic scream out "God is great!" Like most beheadings recorded by insurgents and published to the Internet, the head of the victim is held up to the cheers of the onlookers and then placed on the body. It is a horrible way to die and even more horrible to witness (for those who have a conscience). 
By watching the video, we become actual witnesses to a barbaric murder. However, the difference between us as internet witnesses watching the video and those who are actually there is that we are appalled by what is taking place. Those who are actually there, on the other hand, celebrate and rejoice in it! They even have the audacity to do it while invoking God's name!
What God would condone such brutality and barbarism? Yes...we Christians have also done horrible and barbaric things to our fellow human beings over the centuries. The Crusades, the Inquisition and other events of history, while originally rooted in noble causes, ended up being atrocities of which we should be very ashamed. Thankfully, (and hopefully) we have repented of this kind of behavior and have grown sufficiently and spiritually in Christ to understand that this kind of behavior is incompatible with who we are as Christians and is inconsistent with our Faith. But, it doesn't seem to be so with the Islamist extremists. They haven't learned that lesson yet. For centuries, they have continued to paint a picture of a religion that is rooted in barbarism, brutality and murder. To the world, Islam has a face of brutality and violence. Whether this face is real or not makes no difference because the extremists are the ones we see and hear about the most.
Truly, the extremists would have us believe that every human being in the world must submit to Allah and if not, they are to be wiped off the face of the earth. While it is true that most Muslims are reasonable and good people, many remain silent in the face of such atrocities and do nothing to vindicate the blood of the thousands of martyred Christians who have suffered at the hands of such extremists in the name of God in recent years. And this is most troubling. Until Muslims of good will speak out more actively and aggressively against the extremists of their faith and take whatever steps are necessary to eliminate this stain on their Faith, Islam will always be looked upon with mistrust by the rest of the world and it will always be perceived as a religion of violence, domination and brutality. The attached video is a very strong proof positive of that.
This month has seen an escalation in sectarian atrocities committed by Muslim insurgents. Recently, a Catholic priest was executed by foreign militants. The monastery in which he resided was burned and looted, echoing a massacre in Homs last month which resulted in the entire population of a Christian village being wiped out and their houses and possessions burned. Two Orthodox bishops who were kidnapped by Chechen gunmen in Aleppo earlier this year are still missing. Other accounts of atrocities and brutality perpetrated against Christians in the Middle East are very rarely brought to the knowledge of the public because the media refuses to report on such incidents. Information about them reaches the public through venues like the message boards I subscribe to.
The sad fact is that such events are not considered news worthy by the media in general. No one wants to upset the Muslims because they know that in one way or another the Muslims, that is extremists Muslims, will respond violently to any perceived attack upon their faith or their Prophet. Would enlightened Christians do what is being done in the accompanying video? The answer is a resounding "NO!" Why? Because an "enlightened" Christian is one who is filled with the light of Christ. An enlightened Christian is one who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Such a person understands that barbarism, brutality, hatred and violence are totally incompatible with being a Christian. One cannot be a Christian if one does not live a Christ-like life.
As I said, Christians have been guilty of perpetrating many atrocities and barbaric acts against their fellow human beings over the centuries, but as we grow in Christ we come to the knowledge that such behavior and actions are unacceptable and incompatible with being one with Christ. Those Christians who still undertake such activities are not Christians at all, but simply unenlightened barbarians who have refused to accept Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Please pray for the souls of those who have been so brutally and violently murdered and butchered. They are truly martyrs for the faith and shall be inscribed in the heart of the Church for eternity. Let their deaths be not for nothing. Hold them up as examples to emulate. May the sacrifice they made give glory to God, may they be added to the crown of the Church, and may their memories be eternal.

+Archbishop Stephen