Thursday, April 21, 2011

Iraqi Christians follow the Way of the Cross this Holy Week

"The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (Jn 16:2).

The great scholar and observer of Islam, Raymond Ibrahim, has just posted a sorrowful survey of the sufferings of Christians in Iraq, documenting their own personal 'via dolorosa' this Holy Week.  Though Ibrahim's article concentrates on Iraq, we see the plight of Christians throughout not only the Middle East, but in any and every Muslim country, including supposedly 'moderate' Islamic countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, is dire indeed, and rapidly growing worse. Iraq is a case study, a 'canary in the coal mine', if you will. And the threat against Christians in the Muslim world (the dar al-Islam) is not random, not limited to sporadic outbreaks. It is urged and abetted by Muslim imams and scholars, leaders and interpreters of Islam, who base their preaching and teaching on the Koran, the hadiths (the sayings and traditions about Muhammad), and the Sira (the example of Muhammad).

As Mr. Ibrahim puts it in the intro to his article:

Last week an Iraqi Muslim scholar issued a fatwa that, among other barbarities, asserts that "it is permissible to spill the blood of Iraqi Christians."  Inciting as the fatwa is, it is also redundant.  While last October's Baghdad church attack which killed some sixty Christians is widely known—actually receiving some MSM coverage—the fact is, Christian life in Iraq has been a living hell ever since U.S. forces ousted the late Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Among other atrocities, beheading and crucifying Christians are not irregular occurrences; messages saying "you Christian dogs, leave or die," are typical.  Islamists see the church as an "obscene nest of pagans" and threaten to "exterminate Iraqi Christians."

This threat of extermination is real and immanent, as Ibrahim documents:

 John Eibner, CEO of Christian Solidarity International, summarized the situation well in a recent letter to President Obama:

Iraqi man grieves at the funeral of his two brothers, slain for being Christian.
The threat of extermination is not empty. Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, more than half the country's Christian population has been forced by targeted violence to seek refuge abroad or to live away from their homes as internally displaced people. According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, over 700 Christians, including bishops and priests, have been killed and 61 churches have been bombed. Seven years after the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk reports: "He who is not a Muslim in Iraq is a second-class citizen. Often it is necessary to convert or emigrate, otherwise one risks being killed." This anti-Christian violence is sustained by a widespread culture of Muslim supremacism that extends far beyond those who pull the triggers and detonate the bombs.

Just as happened from the late 19th through the mid-20th century to Orthodox Christians in Armenia, Pontus, Thrace, Greece, and elsewhere in the Balkans—systematic genocide (4.5 million killed) and forced exile at the hands of the Turkish Muslims—the Christian population in the Middle East is suffering beyond anything we can imagine:

Another indicator that empowering Muslim masses equates Christian suffering is the fact that, though Iraqi Christians amount to a mere 5% of the population, they make up nearly 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq.  It is now the same in Egypt: "A growing number of Egypt's 8-10 million Coptic Christians are looking for a way to get out as Islamists increasingly take advantage of the nationalist revolution that toppled long-standing dictator Hosni Mubarak in February."

These photos of profaned and destroyed Iraqi churches recall to mind the scenes from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, newsreels depicting the dynamiting of churches, the toppling of spires and domes, and the throwing down of bells from church towers. We are witnessing an emboldened, full scale Islamic assault against our brothers and sisters. Let us open our hearts in prayer, and hope that as many as possible can flee to the safety of the United States. We may also be able to exert a charitable influence on our elected representatives to intervene on behalf of the Iraqi Christians, to invite them to safe haven here.

This new Golgotha being manifested right before our eyes is a sobering reminder of Christ's many warnings to us that as His followers, we are certain to face persecution. As we journey with our Lord through His Passion Week, let us recommit ourselves to remain faithful to Him regardless of the cost. As my priest, Fr. Steven Kostoff, wrote in a meditation this week, let us not be  "more intent on eating lamb than partaking of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world."   The "great cloud of witnesses" which surrounds, encourages and intercedes for us has been added to by the tens of millions over the last century, and is being added to daily. Let us be found worthy of being numbered with them, at the very least by our faithfulness to our crucified, risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Having Completed the Forty Days - Apothegmata or Apostasy?

The traditional Christian practice of observing a forty day fast leading up to the commemoration of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection — Pascha (Greek for Passover) among the Eastern Orthodox, Easter in the West — dates back to as early as the second century, perhaps even earlier. The great Church Father, Bishop and Martyr Ignatius of Antioch, wrote in the early second century, "Do not neglect the Forty Days; it constitutes an imitation of Christ's way of life."

Here we have, from a saint known as "the Godbearer," a most concise summation of the purpose of Great Lent.  Just as Christ rebutted every temptation of satan during His forty days in the desert, so we are called to reject temptations (relying on the Word of God, as did Christ), to persistently work on ourselves during our annual forty day pilgrimage (and of course at all times, "in season and out of season"). The demons are cast out "by prayer and fasting," and the holy fathers, those whose sayings and deeds are recounted in the Apothegmata, teach that he who would cast out the demons which afflict him, must first tame the passions through which they wage their attacks.

The third leg of the stool or tripod which grounds and supports our Lenten effort, our spiritual struggle, is almsgiving, that is, practical expressions of love towards our neighbor. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us clearly that these practices are essential for our lives, for He said "When you pray... When you fast... When you give alms..." There is a sense here of a certain tension, an ongoing expectation, an ever present urgency, which points to the struggle of the spiritual/ascetical practice central to the living of the Christian life, or what we call ortho-praxis, which is far removed from the laissez faire optionalism which so dilutes much of modern Christianity. So we may join to St Ignatius' admonition to imitate Christ's way of life, an imperative of walking in obedience to the teachings Christ gives us. If we begin to imitate and obey, we may have hope that we will abide in Christ, and He in us. This is real hope, the hope of beginning to live the Resurrection in this life, the hope of Theosis, or Deification in Christ.

How sad it is then, to learn of a Christian servant who decides to completely jettison any even remotely traditional Christian observation of Lent, in favor of adopting the practices of an anti-Christian religion and ideology in order to "gain a deeper understanding of it." This is what Rev. Steve Lawler of St Stephen's Episcopal Church in St Louis did this year, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Facing Mecca and praying to Allah five times a day, studying the Koran, and observing Islamic dietary restrictions, Lawler approached his task very consciously, and very publicly, issuing a press release, and relating to a reporter that:

He had no problem reconciling his Episcopalian views with those of Islam and explained that he hoped to test a concept that has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and is discussed in John Dunne's book, "The Way of All the Earth." According to the book, it involves passing over "into another religion, which is followed by an equal and opposite process of coming back with new insight to one's own culture or religion."

Lawler indicated he was not intending to pronounce the shahada, the Muslim profession of faith in Allah, and in Muhammad as his messenger; that would have been a more clear cut case of apostasy. When rebuked by his bishop, Lawler seemed to comply, and ceased his Islamic practices after three days. However, his "Plan B" is hardly an improvement, as he next planned to hold

a series of informal public discussions at St. Stephen's that will include a Muslim, an atheist, a spiritual-but-not-religious person and someone who "lives a full, moral life but has no spiritual or religious foundation at all."  The free series begins March 22 and is called "Giving Up Church for Lent." (Full article here.)

What we see here is an all too common occurrence in post-modern Christianity: a non-traditionalist with creative ideas for how to energize his or her faith and give it 'relevance', adopts practices which originated not only outside the Church, but far outside any form of Christianity, and seeks to 'illumine' others with what he considers to be 'wisdom'. In Lawler's case, we see yet another tare in the midst of the wheat, another wolf in the sheep pen, another false shepherd and teacher. Adopting non-Christian syncretic practices (from the Hindu Ghandi), justifying this (so he thinks) using the anti-traditional, modernist ideas of John Dunne, in order to immerse himself in the religion of Muhammad, Steve Lawler has become Steve Lawless, and has not only given up church for Lent, but perhaps even Christ Himself.

Returning to our opening thoughts on the Lenten ascetical effort (and Christian ascesis in general), we can identify easily what is really at the root of efforts such as Lawler's. It is a manifestation of the passions, in this case of vainglory. That is, thinking that one knows better, that one has the correct answer, or that even if one does not have the fullness of the answer, that one is more correct than others, especially than traditionalists who hold to a supposedly outmoded worldview of Christianity and its truth claims, and that one is somehow "called" to shake things up and become a sign, even a prophet, of the future of Christianity. This is the soul-destroying passion of all lapsed Christians who teach by word and deed that Christianity must reach out to Islam, that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God," that we have more in common than we have divisions, and that it is only through interfaith dialogue and stunts such as Lawler's that we can find our way out of the present impasse. This was the same passion of all the heretics, of Arius and Nestorius, or Origen and his ideas of the pre-existence of the soul, of Berdyaev, the 'prophet' of the new age.

I have a suggestion for Steve Lawler: Next Lent, try adopting the practices and authentic faith of the Orthodox Church. You will find the actual fasting guidelines at least as rigorous as those of Islam, and you may wear out the knees of your trousers performing the full prostrations prescribed for the weekdays of Great Lent, including during the Prayer of St Ephraim. You will find Orthodox Lent a deeply profound pilgrimage through a spiritual desert, centered on Jesus Christ Himself, on repentance, on preparing for the Holy Week of the Lord's Passion, the Empty Tomb, and for Christ's Glorious Resurrection on the Third Day. I would also recommend you place yourself truly under the spiritual authority of an experienced Christian elder, so you are not the measure of your own progress. Then, having persevered through Great Lent and Holy Week, try to encapsulate that same spiritual/ascetic dynamic into the course of a single day, and strive to do that every single day for the remainder of your life. If you dare to do these things and repent of the passion of vainglory and of being a freethinker, you are a man of courage, and may become a man of true faith.  And wonder of wonders, some of the Muslims, atheists and others you meet, may be brought to Christ by your kenotic exercise, by your repentance, your prayers, and by your acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Wishing all of you a blessed and sanctified Passion Week, and a Most Radiant Pascha, I ask your prayers and forgiveness for my own passion of vainglory, and for writing so boldly.

~the sinner Zosimas

Thursday, April 14, 2011

First Posting: The Divine Imperative

The Divine Imperative
An Apologia for Facing Islam
Ralph Zosimas Sidway
A major triad of the presentation in my book, Facing Islam - What the Ancient Church has to say about the Religion of Muhammad, is how as Orthodox Christians we are called to love our Muslim neighbors and reach out to them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With this always in mind, I am extremely careful in my writing and my talks to distinguish between our response to Islam, and our approach towards Muslims we meet in our day to day lives. Fr. Tom Soroka emphasizes this same evangelical imperative in his Foreword to the book. I think it is due in large part to this essential theme that the book has been endorsed by several Orthodox priests (including Fr Daniel Byantoro of the Indonesian Orthodox Christian Mission, himself a convert from Islam) for both its content and its tone, and that I have been invited to speak by several churches, and already invited to return to some of them. It also bears mentioning that although the target audience of the book is particularly Orthodox Christians, there are enough bridges built (especially the Preface) to reach out to those seeking authentic Christianity; there is a definite missionary, evangelical aspect to Facing Islam.
For some, however, the central thesis of Facing Islam — a direct and unflinching theological demolition of the Religion of Muhammad from a Traditional Christian vantage point— seems to be too provocative, too incendiary. Therefore, for my lead posting on this new blog, I would like to offer some thoughts as to why it is essential for Christians first and foremost to lead the chorus of denunciation and repudiation of the false-religion of Islam, and what that really means for us Christians:

Prohibitions Against Discussing Islam

Islamic law concerning non-Muslims, implemented in a consistent and nearly identical manner for over a thousand years in every region where Islam conquered, explicitly prohibits non-Muslims under Islamic rule from not only criticizing Islam and Muhammad, but from even teaching their children or communities about Islam. This is one of the most serious terms of the dhimma contract, the contract of 'protection' offered to Christians and Jews who submit to totalitarian Muslim rule as humiliated, second-class peoples, with minimal rights, and forced annually to pay a crippling jizya tax.(1)

To zealous Muslims, therefore, the modern translation of Islamic sacred texts and writings of Islamic jurisprudence into English, and the explosion of commentary and criticism of the same by non-Muslims, is nothing short of blasphemous, and they feel it must be stopped at all costs.
In the modern landscape, Islamic supremacists — both the strident ones overseas and the (somewhat more) stealthy ones here in America — work hard to enforce such traditional sharia prohibitions, effectively seeking to muzzle any discussion of Islam by unbelievers in the West. (Hence the draconian blasphemy law in Pakistan, and the attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to pass through the UN a measure outlawing the defamation of religion—meaning, of course, Islam.) One of the methods they all use in order to silence critics is intimidation. In the United States and Europe, any attempt to discuss or question Islam's inherently supremacist nature and its violent, hate-filled commands in the Koran (taken to be the literal, pre-eternal words of Allah) for Muslims to extend the rule of Allah across the entire globe, is met with accusations of bigotry, Islamophobia, and even racism. (What race exactly is Islam? — one is forced to ask.) In the Islamic world, any provocation, even cartoon drawings of Muhammad, are used as excuses by Islamic clerics to whip up Muslims after Friday prayers into frenzied outrage, erupting into murderous protests. The goal of both kinds of Islamist reactions are the same: the intimidation and bullying of non-Muslims into acquiescence and silence before Islam, Muhammad, the Koran, etc., resulting in ever greater submission to the Islamic narrative.

Submitting to Islamic Intimidation
= Modern Day Dhimmitude

Sadly, whenever a group — Christian or otherwise — caves in to such intimidation tactics, voluntarily censoring itself from speaking about Islam, they are in effect 'submitting' (the very meaning of the word 'Islam') to the dictates of Islam's codified subjugation of infidels — 'kuffar' in the arabic Koran, which has strong connotations of uncleanness and sub-humanness. The infidels are berated throughout the Koran, the hadiths (traditions and sayings of Muhammad), the Sira (the Life of Muhammad) and the teachings of all major schools of Islamic jurisprudence as being not only deceived, led astray, and under Allah's curse, but inferior, the worst of all created beings, and — in the case of Jews — descended from apes and swine. The Opening Sura of the Koran — prayed seventeen times a day by an observant Muslim, over 5000 times a year — specifically reinforces the condemnation against Christians and Jews as ‘led astray’ and ‘cursed’.
Voluntarily self-censoring and inhibiting Christian teaching about Islam, particularly where there is a vibrant tradition of repudiating heresy as has shone forth in the Orthodox Church for two thousand years, is to allow free reign to Islam's totalitarian claims to both theological and temporal superiority and dominance. It is to 'submit' to Islamic rule over our lives as well as Islam’s definitions and judgments against Christians and other non-Muslims. Self-censorship in the face of Islam is to voluntarily enter into a defeatist, dysfunctional, psycho-spiritual inferiority condition, what the great scholar of Islam Bat Ye'or has termed dhimmitude:
"The totality of the characteristics developed in the long term by collectives subjected, on their own homeland, to the laws and ideology imported through jihad."
With sorrow and frustration we see the defective culture of dhimmitude afflicting us here in America today, whenever we shy away from speaking or writing openly and truthfully of how the Truth of the Gospel fully exposes the falseness of Islam, its opposition to Christianity, its mistreatment of non-Muslims and women, its brutal laws, its violent supremacism, its incompatibility with our culture, government and jurisprudence, and its genocidal eschatology.(2)

Even a brief sampling of Koranic commands and hadith traditions make clear the nature of Islam:

Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth [i.e. Islam] among the people of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Sura 9:29)
Kill the mushrikun [unbelievers] wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. (Sura 9:5)
I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes. (Sura 8:12)
Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the enemies of Allah and your enemies. (Sura 8:60)
So, when you meet those who disbelieve, smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly on them... Thus you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam. (Sura 47:4)

If we shrink back from writing, speaking or publishing about Islam, whether out of fear of being labeled 'bigots', 'racists' or 'Islamophobes' here, or out of fear of provoking Muslims to violence and slaughter 'over there', we are in effect surrendering, and acquiescing into the role of dhimmi hostages silenced under the brutal threats of sharia reprisals.

A ‘Theological Trojan Horse’
Significantly, Islam claims to predate all religions, to be the 'Religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad', and it claims to venerate Jesus and to properly understand him. It also claims that Christians (and Jews) have deliberately distorted their scriptures, and that Muhammad was sent by God to set things right and proclaim the true religion, as seen in this quote from a modern Muslim apologist:
Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were all prophets of Islam. Islam is the common heritage of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim community of America, and establishing the kingdom of God on earth is the joint responsibility of all three Abrahamic faiths. Islam was the din (faith, way of life) of both Jews and Christians, who later lost it through human innovations. Now the Muslims want to remind their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters of their original din. These are the facts of history.(3)
Dr. Mark Durie deconstructs the above statement as follows:
This historical negationism—appearing to affirm Christianity and Judaism whilst in fact rejecting and supplanting them—is a lynchpin of Muslim apologetics. What is being affirmed is in fact neither Christianity nor Judaism, but Jesus as a prophet of Islam, Abraham as a Muslim, Moses as a Muslim, etc. This is intended to lead to ‘reversion’ of Christians and Jews to Islam.(4)

This is why we cannot remain quiet in the face of Islam's muscular ascendency throughout the world. Islam denies the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection, denying that Jesus is the Word of God Incarnate, the Son of God, and strongly denies the Holy Trinity. Islam presents a different Jesus (the Muslim prophet Isa), presenting also a different Gospel, and a radically different Spirit. St Paul forcefully condemns and warns against such false teachings in Gal 1:8-9, 2 Cor 11:3-4 and 1 Tim 4:1-2. The Apostle and Evangelist John warns even more forcefully:

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23

In ‘Facing Islam’ I assert in the strongest possible terms that the Islamic claim to worship the same God as Christians and Jews is an attempt to co-opt our faith, and is actually a Theological Trojan Horse, seeking to nullify and destroy orthodox Christianity from within, even as it seeks to assert itself worldwide through jihad.
Thus, it is bad enough when Christians allow themselves to be cowed into silence regarding Islam. Indeed, St Gregory the Theologian warned ominously that "By your silence, you can betray God." But even worse, when Christians seek to mollify Muslims by assenting to their claims that Allah is the same as the God of Abraham and the Father Almighty, they are in serious error, and if left unchecked and unrepentant, are in grave danger of committing total apostasy. When Christian writers, scholars, priests and hierarchs commit such errors (and there have been many over recent decades), they are guilty of confusing the faithful and leading them astray. Thus a strong corrective in Christian catechism regarding Islam is an urgent necessity.

The Divine Imperative
Now, I am not suggesting that we "pile on" Islam just because it is timely or merely for political reasons, or whatever. Rather, I would assert that there exists a divine imperative for Christians to publicly and relentlessly refute and reject Islam. Christians simply must be 100% confident in and growing ever deeper in their faith and equally bold in their defense of it, tirelessly demonstrating in the public square the falsehood of Islam.(5)

We — here and now — must reject and unlearn the false narrative of Islam as ‘The Religion of Peace™’, an ‘Abrahamic Faith’ with the ‘Same God’ as the One True God, and we must rigorously set ourselves free from the deplorable diminution of humanity (dhimmitude) which is already poisoning us into paralysis. And in doing so, we must be clear and grounded in our Faith. That is, we must not be repudiating Islam merely to defend our Faith against the assault of Islamic teaching. But rather, this divine imperative to rebut Islam is forced upon us at this critical point in time, for it is only through the fervent living of the Orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ that we can abide in Christ, acquire the Holy Spirit, and hold out the Word of Life to this weary world.

Islam’s abusive bullying of non-Muslims is anti-Christian, anti-human, and indeed, anti-God, for in the beginning, God created man after His own image. And even after the primordial sin and fall from paradise, God so loved mankind, that He sent His only-begotten Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem all mankind. And not only to redeem us, but to raise us up with Himself, to make us partakers of His divine nature. This is why Christ commands us to love our neighbor, and especially our enemies, for they too are created in the image of God. This is the reason — even as I dare say the divine imperative — for Orthodoxy to boldly proclaim not merely the truth about Islam, but the Living Truth of the Gospel!

Our Orthodox anthropology shames the misogynist, apartheid, genocidal monstrosity of Islam, just as our Orthodox theology decimates the false, distorted, debased image of God and apostleship put forth by Muhammad. Truly, we have never had such an opportunity to present the Holy Orthodox Gospel in opposition to false teaching as we have now. Now is the time. If not now, when? When freedom of speech is wholly lost to us, and we are publishing samizdats underground as the Catacomb Church did under the Soviet beast? But perhaps that is what will happen. As one Russian elder prophesied about the devastation of Russia just before the Revolution, "The ship of the Russian Church will be shattered, yet all is not lost, and people can be saved on splinters and fragments."

As Christians, we know what True Life is and means. We know the Way, the Truth and the Life — Jesus Christ, the Son of God and True God — and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. In holding out the Word of Life, we seek to save as many as the Lord calls from eternal death. This is the purpose of Facing Islam. This is my apologia. This is our divine imperative as right-believing Christians, which is unchanged from the first century.

“Now one cannot be a half-hearted Christian, but only entirely or not at all.”
~ Hieromonk Seraphim Rose


1. Based in large part on the Koran 9:29: Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth [i.e. Islam] among the people of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” For a convincing, and very readable analysis of the dhimma and its impact on our situation today, read Dr Mark Durie’s fine book, The Third Choice.

2. In Islamic end-times prophecies, the Jews will be slaughtered, and the Muslim Jesus will return to earth to destroy Christianity, “break the crosses, and kill the swine, and abolish the jizya.”

3. Shamim A. Siddiqi, Letter to the Editor, Daniel Pipes, February 2002,

4. Mark Durie, Revelation - Do We Worship the Same God?, City Harvest, Australia, 2006, pp 50-51.

5. As well as of the ills of post-modern secular society, seen in the abortion of over fifty million babies over the last forty years, physician-assisted suicide, crass materialism, the hyper-sexualization of youth culture, etc.