Monday, June 27, 2011

Proclaiming the Faith vs Committing Apostasy

The past week saw two widely divergent events which make it abundantly clear how far from authentic Christianity some churches in the United States have drifted, and at the same time how visionary and timely is the pastoral and prophetic voice of our beloved hierarch of the OCA, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah.

First, the apostasy. From an article on

Dozens of Christian churches, from Park Hill Congregational in Denver to Hillview United Methodist in Boise, Idaho, and First United Lutheran in San Francisco to St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Honolulu, are planning to send "a message both here at home and to the Arab and Muslim world about our respect for Islam" with a time to read the Quran during worship this Sunday...
The aim of the program, which is promoted by social activists behind the Faith Shared website, is to counter the message from Islamic activists who say opposition to their religion is the product of what they call a cottage industry of hate.So the Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First is calling on Christian clergy to read portions of the Quran during their services Sunday.
The readings, supporters say, will "counter the anti-Muslim bigotry and negative stereotypes that have erupted throughout the country in the past year and led to misconceptions, distrust and in some cases, violence."
And from the Faith Shared website itself:
Tensions around Islam in America have erupted throughout the country in the past year, leading to misconceptions, distrust and in some cases violence. News stories on the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence abound, with graphic and often searing images of the antagonists, the protagonists and the battlegrounds where they meet. All too often, media coverage simplistically pits Muslims against would-be Qur’an burners, neglecting any substantive representation of where the majority of Americans actually stand: a shared commitment to tolerance and freedom. We are committed to ensuring that the storyline changes dramatically in 2011 by helping to create an environment of mutual understanding and respect for each other’s faith traditions...
Faith Shared asks houses of worship across the country to organize events involving clergy reading from each other’s sacred texts. An example would be a Christian Minister, Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam participating in a worship service or other event. Suggested readings will be provided from the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an, but communities are encouraged to choose readings that will resonate with their congregations. Involvement of members from the Muslim community is key. We will also provide suggestions on how to incorporate this program into your regular worship services. And we will assist local congregations in their media and communications efforts.
The "Faith Shared" website subtitle reads, "United in Prayer and Understanding."  Yet everything about this horribly misguided effort reveals that its organizers and supporters are lacking in any sort of understanding of the issues at hand. They appear to know nothing of either Christian or Muslim doctrine.

Firstly, there is absolutely no "faith shared" between Christians and Muslims. Islam is a pseudo-monotheistic pagan religion completely at odds with Christianity, and its teachings on Christ are an amalgam of ancient heresies, similar to Arianism (it denies the divinity of Jesus Christ), and with a strong Docetist component (it denies that Christ was crucified; the Koran states that another was crucified in his place). Islam also strongly denies the Triune Nature of the Godhead, and through its relentless, supremacist theological jihad seeks to sway Christians into agreeing with its extreme monotheism. When a Christian assents to the Muslim teaching that we worship the same god, he has implicitly denied Christ and committed apostasy, for in Islam, Jesus is merely a prophet, not the Only Begotten Son of God.  Islam openly claims to properly understand and venerate Jesus, seeking to co-opt Christ as a prophet of Islam. This blasphemous teaching subverts every aspect of authentic Christian dogma, seen most shockingly in Islamic eschatology, where Jesus is expected to return again, but to "break the crosses and kill the swine" — in other words, to destroy Christianity — before taking a subservient position behind the Muslim messiah, the Mahdi.

Thus, to allow or assent to any Islamic doctrine is to deny Christ and commit apostasy. 

Not only is there no "faith shared" between Christians and Muslims, but there can be no "uniting in prayer" either.  Since Muslims pray to a false god, a Christian is forbidden to join with them in prayer. How could one who has been baptized into Christ say "Amen" to a prayer offered to a false, pagan deity? 

Furthermore, the Islamic opening prayer includes a specific petition which explicitly invokes Allah's condemnation on "those who have incurred his wrath, and on those who have gone astray." Muslim commentators have always understood this to refer to Jews and Christians.  From Mark Durie's website:

The best-known chapter of the Quran is al-Fatihah ‘The Opening’. This sura is recited as part of all the mandatory daily prayers – the salat –and repeated within each prayer. A faithful Muslim who said all their prayers would recite this sura at least seventeen times a day, and over five thousand times a year.
Al-Fatihah is a prayer for guidance:
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all Being,
the All-merciful, the All-compassionate,
the Master of the Day of Doom.
Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succor.
Guide us in the straight path,
the path of those whom Thou hast blessed,
not of those against whom Thou art wrathful,
nor of those who are astray.
This is a prayer asking Allah’s help to lead the believer along the ‘straight path’. As such it is true to the heart of Islam’s message of guidance. 
But who are those who are said to have earned Allah’s wrath, or gone astray from the straight path? Who are these people who deserve to be stigmatized in every Muslim’s prayers, each day, hundreds of thousands of times in many Muslims’ lifetimes. 
Ibn Kathir’s commentary explains the meaning of this verse as follows:
These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. … the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians. … We should also mention that both the Christians and the Jews have earned the anger and are led astray, but the anger is one of the attributes more particular of the Jews. Allah said about the Jews, ‘Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath’ (Sura 5:60). The attribute that the Christians deserve most is that of being led astray, just as Allah said about them, ‘Who went astray before and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right path’ (Sura 5:77).
 Ibn Kathir goes on to cite a hadith in which Muhammad clarified the meaning of this sura:
Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘Adi bin Hatim said, … he [Muhammad] said: ‘Those who have earned the anger are the Jews and those who are led astray are the Christians.’ 
The verse from Sura 5 which Ibn Kathir refers to concerning Jews is: 
Shall I tell you of a recompense with Allah, worse than that? Whomsoever Allah has cursed, and with whom He is wroth, and made some of them apes and swine, and worshippers of idols – they are worse situated, and have gone further astray from the right way. (Sura 5:60)
And the verse concerning Christians:
People of the Book, go not beyond the bounds in your religion, other than the truth, and follow not the caprices of a people who went astray before, and led astray many, and now again have gone astray from the right way. (Sura 5:77)
It is remarkable that the daily prayers of every Muslim, part of the core of Islam, include a rejection of Christians and Jews as misguided and objects of Allah’s wrath.

Sadly, tragically, the Faith Shared effort is united in apostasy and misunderstanding, and is the offspring of the centuries of anti-Christian drifting which has occurred in the West, coupled with the ascendancy of the secular mindset, which has been gathering strength for the last century. The extent to which more and more "Christians" adopt the beliefs and attitudes of the Faith Shared effort, is the extent to which the great falling away can be seen to have progressed. 

The address given by Metropolitan Jonah (Asceticism and the Consumer Society) to a diverse audience from over seventy countries — including many Muslims — at Acton University last week, was a pattern for proclaiming the Orthodox Gospel, even while building bridges and reaching out to non-Christians where we may genuinely do so, as is evidenced in this excerpt:

The solution we are looking for is the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is His Cross that heals a fallen creation, a fallen humanity, and me as a sinner. Reflecting on the appropriateness of Christ’s death on the Cross as a public proclamation of God’s love for humanity, St Athanasius the Great writes: "[I]f the Lord’s death is the ransom of all, and by his death 'the middle wall of partition' is broken down, and the calling of the nations is brought about, how would he have called us to him, had he not been crucified? for it is only on a cross that a man dies with his hands spread out. Whence it was fitting for the Lord to bear this also and to spread out his hands, that with the one he might draw the ancient people, and with the other those from the Gentiles, and unite both in himself. For this is what he himself has said to all: 'I, when I am lifted up,' he says, 'shall draw all men to me.'"

The Christian ascetical life, that is the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the works of mercy and obedience, is the application and the appropriation of the Cross to my life. It is the means by which I both enter into a life of communion with God and become myself a sacrament of that communion for others. This is possible because at its most basic level, asceticism “is the struggle of the person against rebellious nature, against the nature which seeks to achieve on its own what it could bring about only in personal unity and communion with God.” Our “restoration” to a life of personal communion with God and so our personal “resistance” to the powers of sin and death, “presuppose a struggle” within each human heart that is often lacking in contemporary society and even our churches.

This struggle IS the ascetical life and as an Orthodox Christian I believe that I cannot effectively preach the Gospel if I neglect my own person podvig, my own personal ascetical struggle to live a life in conformity to Christ. So clearly I am not referring here to “just any kind of asceticism.” Fasting, for example, simply to make ourselves more attractive to others is also a type of asceticism; it is the false asceticism of consumerism that encourages rather than mortifies our egoism. Likewise we can work longer hours so that we can simply own more things. This too is a false form of asceticism because it too is grounded in egoism.

The asceticism that is needed to preach the Gospel, and so offer hope and healing to those gripped by the materialism and despair of secularism and the false idol of consumerism, is the kind of asceticism by which we “resist death in our own bodies.” This happens I believe only by our “conformity to the example of Christ, who willingly accepted death so as to destroy death.” As with worship, we may disagree among ourselves as Jews, Christians and Muslim as to the source, content and form of the ascetical life. But is it so daring to say that, on anthropological grounds at least, we agree among ourselves that “Every voluntary mortification of the egocentricity which is ‘contrary to nature’ is a dynamic destruction of death and a triumph for the life of the person” and so society?

Can we not as religious believers and as men and women of good will, in our own lives, in the lives of our respective communities and in our society at the very least foster a renewed appreciation and practice of asceticism?

Metropolitan Jonah leads us as a pastor, showing how to achieve the essential balance between being a confessing Christian who fearlessly proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and at the same time appeals to "men and women of good will" with a message of healing. It remains to be seen whether the followers of Muhammad will follow their conscience, which may lead them to faith in Jesus Christ, or whether they will concentrate on the way (the sunnah) of their prophet and the Koran, and all the dark forces contained in orthodox Islam.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

More on Muslim Persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt

While preparing a post on Muslim persecution of Iraqi Christians (Part 2 of the series 'Canaries in the Coalmine'), I came upon this extremely helpful article, which serves as a vivid reminder of the suffering of our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt. 

Keep the Persecution of Egypt's Christians in Correct Perspective

By Michael Terheyden
Catholic Online (

The Copts have real reasons to fear rising Islamic fundamentalism. And the harsh reality of life for the Copts is important for us to keep in correct perspective. Perhaps one reason it is important is so that we will continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world and help build up the Body of Christ.

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - On May 26, 2011, Reuters published an article, "Christians Worry Egypt Being Hijacked by Islamists." The article begins by informing us about Coptic fears of rising Islamist fundamentalism since Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt in February of this year, but then it seems to downplay those fears. Consequently, I am reminded how important it is for us keep the harsh reality which the Copts are experiencing in proper perspective. With this thought in mind, I will review four points mentioned in the Reuters article.

First, the article seems to associate the Copts' fear of rising Islamist fundamentalism with a group called the Salafists. Of course, such fears have other roots too, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Salafists appear to be responsible for much of the increased violence and tensions in Egypt of late.

The Salafis are followers of a movement that models itself on Islam's patristic period. The Salafis believe that this time period, which lasted for the first three generations, reflects the pure and authoritative teaching and practice of Islam. Contemporary Salafism is seen as a literal and puritanical approach to Islam, and a minority of Salafis espouse violent jihad against the civilian population. Members of this violent minority are referred to as Salafists.

Second, the article suggests other explanations for the recent wave of attacks against the Copts. It floats the idea that the protests in January and February somehow weakened law and order. This idea does not make much sense to me as it stands. However, forcing Mubarak out so fast did risk creating a power vacuum, and Egypt could be struggling with this problem. Some reports appear to corroborate this idea. They indicate that the military may be having difficulty keeping order among certain groups of fundamentalists such as the Salafists.

The article also suggests that the increased lawlessness may be due to the mass breakout of convicts from jail during the historic demonstrations in January and February. But the attacks against the Copts are overwhelmingly sectarian. Reports indicate that the attacks are being carried out by local Muslim communities and their leaders, not escaped convicts. For instance, the article mentions an incident last week in Ain Shams, an eastern district of Cairo, where local Muslims and Salafists reportedly blocked Christians from going to church and threw cinder blocks at them.

Third, according to the article, some Egyptians think the alarm over the recent sectarian violence is being overdone, and some blame Coptic leaders for stoking fears and making the Christian community more defensive. It even quotes a Christian thinker, Milad Hanna: "If there are events which could lead to clashes every now and then, this may happen. They (Muslims) are normal people, not angels." Then the article says that "The sectarian clashes have prompted many Christians to vent pent-up grievances at perceived discrimination since the 1970s. "

The Copts are hardly venting pent-up grievances at perceived discrimination, though I have no doubt that their grievances are pent up. After all, they have been suffering discrimination for well over a thousand years, ever since Muslim armies conquered Egypt in the seventh century. Discrimination against the Copts is real, not perceived or imagined. They do not have to go looking for it to try to find it. It is in their face every day.

Furthermore, significant clashes between Copts and Muslims since Mubarak stepped down have  not been "every now and then." And there is good reason to believe that these clashes are increasing in intensity and frequency. I have written about some of them in previous articles. In February, at least three monasteries were attacked by the military: the Makarios Monastery of Alexandria, the Saint Bishoy Monastery, and the fourth century monastary of Saint Boula. In March, the Coptic community of Soul was attacked by a mob of 4000 Muslims? Then there was the protest in Cairo that turned violent. And in May there was the conflict at the Saint Mina Church. Not far away, the Virgin Mary Church was set on fire that same evening in Imbaba, Cairo.

Nor are Coptic leaders stoking fears or overreacting. That is what some people do in America. We are not talking about someone threatening to burn the Koran or people protesting the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, which caused mass hysteria among some people in this country; we are talking about Coptic churches, businesses and homes being destroyed and people being attacked, wounded and killed because they are Christian. These are acts of real hatred, violence and destruction.

The fourth and final point I will review concerns the rights which Copts want. The article mentions a few. For instance, Copts are severely restricted when it comes to employment opportunities for government jobs. They want equal opportunity. The history of the Copts is not included in school textbooks, and they want it included in the curriculum. In addition, Copts are not allowed to build or repair their churches unless they get special permits which are not required for mosques, so they want these restrictions eased.

Although this list is far from complete, it gives us some idea how restricted the Copts are in present-day Egyptian society. The Copts are not asking for fictitious rights, as is happening in America over such contentious issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. They are asking for fundamental rights that all people need in order to live. They are asking not to be driven from their land or killed, which is happening to Christians throughout the Muslim world.

Thus, the Copts have real reasons to fear rising Islamic fundamentalism. This is the harsh reality of life for the Copts, and it is important for us to keep it in proper perspective. Perhaps one reason it is important is so that we will continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world and help build up the Body of Christ. 


Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Holy Georgian Martyrs of Persia (+1616)

As you read this account, consider how similar it is in so many respects to the Armenian Golgotha and the Orthodox Genocide following World War I, when the Muslim Turks slaughtered 4.5 million Christians from Armenia, Greece, Pontus, Thrace and elsewhere. This is the legacy of Islam: wherever it goes, death, destruction, blood and misery go with it.  

St Gregory Palamas noted this about Muhammad, which may certainly be applied to his followers:
"[Muhammad] came with war, knives, pillaging, forced enslavement, murders, and acts that are not from the good God but instigated by the chief manslayer, the devil."

Throughout history Georgia has frequently been forced to defend what St. Ilia the Righteous called its “threefold treasure” — language, fatherland, and Faith. In this regard, the events of the 17th century are some of the most tragic in all of Georgian history.

In 1616 the bloodthirsty Persian ruler Shah Abbas I invaded Georgia with a massive army. His goal was to level the country completely, to leave not a single building standing. The shah’s army kidnapped hundreds of thousands of Kakhetian Georgians and then sent them to Persia to be sold as slaves. They settled Turkmen in the newly depopulated Georgian regions. In collaboration with the shah, many Lezgin peoples from the mountainous North Caucasus moved south to occupy the homes of the exiled Georgians.
The 17th-century Italian traveler Pietro della Valle described the Georgian exile in Persia: “It would be too long to narrate all that has passed in this miserable migration, how many murders, how many deaths caused by privation, how many seductions, rapes, and acts of violence, how many children drowned by their own parents or cast into rivers through despair, some snatched by force from their mother’s breasts because they seemed too weak to live and thrown down by the wayside and abandoned there to be food for wild beasts or trampled underfoot by the horses and camels of the army, which marched for a whole day on top of dead bodies; how many sons separated from their fathers, wives from their husbands, sisters from their brothers, and carried off to distant countries without hope of ever meeting again. Throughout the camp, men and women were sold on this occasion much cheaper than beasts, because of the great number of them.” (Quoted in David Marshall Lang, Lives and Legends of the Georgian Church (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1956), p. 170.)
The Georgian exiles in Persia included a large number of clergy. Many of them celebrated the divine services in secret and inspired the people to remain faithful to God. Those discovered were punished severely. Many Georgians were martyred for the Christian Faith during the Persian exile. Not only Georgian researchers, but historians and travelers of other nationalities attest to the truth of this. Furthermore, ethnic Georgians currently residing in formerly Persian territories continue to commemorate their fallen ancestors to this day. They make pilgrimages to the sites where their ancestors were martyred and prepare feasts there in honor of their memory. One of these sites has been called “Ascension.”

Of language, fatherland, and Faith, only language remains alive among Georgians in the formerly Persian territories. Most have lost touch with both their fatherland and the Christian Faith. Those fortunate enough to be able to return to Georgia often convert to Orthodox Christianity. In 2001, when Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II visited the ethnic Georgians in Iran, he presented them with a mound of Georgian soil. With great emotion the Georgians scattered the soil over the ground where their ancestors were martyred.
On September 18, 2003, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church prayerfully considered the martyric contest of the Georgians in Persia. The Synod declared all those martyred at the hands of Muslims in the 17th and 18th centuries worthy to be numbered among the saints. Their commemoration day was set on the feast of Holy Ascension, in honor of the place where many of them were martyred.