In the Orthodox tradition, we commemorate the first martyrs for Christ on December 29. These are the 14,000 Holy Innocents, all male children under the age of two in the Bethlehem area, whom Herod ordered killed in order to slay the Infant King (MT 2:16-18). This Christmas, as in recent years, we see similar evil efforts to slay Christ and wipe out His kingship, and His Church, which is His kingdom on earth.
In Nigeria, at least five bombings, killing dozens, targeted Christian worshippers during their Nativity services. Last Christmas the same extremist Muslim sect Boko Haram killed eighty Christians in church bombings in Nigeria. In Indonesia, threats from an Islamic group forced one Christian church to hold its services in a member's home. In Iraq, Christians suspended their Nativity services due to the threat of violence, although with heavy security, three Roman Catholic parishes in Iraq were able to celebrate Christmas Mass. In an under-reported footnote to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the number of Christians has collapsed from 1.5 million ten years ago to less than a third of that number now, as Christians flee persecution from the emboldened Muslim majority.
In Iran this Christmas, authorities detained an entire church, including the children in Sunday school. And, as I have posted before on this blog, the Coptic Orthodox in Egypt are living in fear after years of worsening persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority.
Our Lord quite clearly told us, "If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also," and "They will persecute you from town to town," and "The time is coming when those who kill you will think they are serving God." Such are the times in which we live, when Muslim persecution of Christians across the globe is advancing, and when in the West, rejection of Christianity and traditional moral uprightness based on the Life in Christ takes the form of open hostility, ridicule and even legislative efforts. Here in America, sin is extolled as the highest good, and the Christian message of repentance and salvation is slandered as 'hate speech'.
Yet we must not cave in to despair, knowing that "He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world." As we begin the new year, let us lift up one another and especially our suffering brothers and sisters before the Lord. Prayer, not despair, is our vocation. Hope is our message. Love, even for our enemies, is our action in the world. And Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, even in the face of a sea of troubles, is our firm support. In all this, the Orthodox Church is our Ark, as the Holy Fathers tell us, and will prevail, leading us to salvation and eternal life.
May the Lord protect those who are His, and receive the sacrifices of His faithful servants who suffer for His Most Holy Name, the Name of Jesus, before Whom every knee shall bow at the end of the age. Amen.