May 9, 2014

Easter in the Middle East

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The Easter issue of the American magazine TIME was dedicated to Christians who are "persecuted" in the Middle East and Egypt. A few items are suggestive of the situation in these countries in relation to its Christian element. Reference will be made according to reports from Kathimerini.

One critical and important element is that "in the last population census during the Ottoman Empire, one in four residents of the Middle East were Christians. Today, Christians represent less that 5%, and there are strong pressures in countries like Syria or Egypt."

Of course, at this time there are Christians of various Confessions, even Coptic Monophysites, and not only Orthodox Romans.

Also in TIME magazine it is reported that "in war-torn Syria, some Christians are persecuted for their faith, while others had a choice for survival in reference to previous centuries. In today's war-torn Rakka in North Syria, the Islamic organization ISIS asked $650 from Christian families who stayed behind for protection.

At least one in four Christians in Syria fled the country after the outbreak of the Civil War, while in Iraq, about one million Christians fled after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, leaving behind about 300,000 Christians. If current demographic trends continue, of the twelve million Christians currently residing in the Middle East, in 2020 only half will remain" (Kathimerini Holy Saturday April 19 - Easter Sunday April 20, 2014).

From this data it appears that in the Middle East a ferocious persecution has evolved in the Middle East against Christians, expressed in various ways, namely murder, extortion, displacement, exile, trauma, refugees etc. I have visited Syria and Lebanon several times in the past and gained many friends, and came to know the situation of the Orthodox Christians and am saddened for the Civil War, especially for the persecution taking place. At some point many facts will be revealed and will enhance all that I am writing here, and martyrs will be revealed.

There is no evidence of life for Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo and the Syrian Jacobite Yohanna, even though more than a year has passed and unfortunately there is not much hope for their survival. There are some reports, but without confirmation. This causes sadness.

This past Holy Week and Easter I frequently thought of the Christians in the Middle East. With what feeling they must have done the services of the Crucifixion and the Epitaphios and how they must have celebrated the Resurrection of Christ! I thought how they must have spent those days like our ancestors who were under terrible enslavement to the Ottomans. How much they must have felt the nails of hate against them, against the Body of the Church that is being persecuted, and how much they must have chanted the hymns of the Resurrection as their own resurrection and the acquisition of their freedom.

We all have different problems - individual, family, social - but this must not lead us to close ourselves within our individual grip, ignoring the persecution suffered by Christians and even our Orthodox brethren in other countries. We have a duty to pray extensively for them who are going through a whirlwind of powerful contemporary persecution, like those written in the Synaxarion of our Church.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Τό Πάσχα στήν Μέση Ἀνατολή", April 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.