Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Meaning of Greek Independence Day

March 25, in addition to being the Great Feast of the Annunciation, is also the day Greeks celebrate their independence from the Ottoman Empire. Although the Greek declaration of independence and the start of the revolt was in 1821, it took a decade of war, and the intervention of great powers Russia, the United Kingdom and France, to defeat the Islamic axis (which also included Egypt and Tunisia).

The Greeks had some dramatic initial successes against the Ottoman Turks, including defeating their navy in the Aegean, before the Egyptian forces re-captured the Peloponnese. But the Russian, French and English turned the tide, eventually destroying the combined Ottoman-Egyptian fleet, and the French aided the Greek armies in driving the Turks out of the Peloponnese. After years of negotiation, Greece was formally recognized as an independent nation in 1832.

Thanks be to God for the steely backbone and determined resistance of the Greek Orthodox, who were subjected to Muslim rule for nearly four hundred years following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The famous "Secret Schools" kept the Orthodox Christian Faith and the Hellenic culture alive during those dark years, while the soil was frequently watered with the blood of the Holy Neo-Martyrs. Great Church figures like St Kosmas of Aitolia and St Joachim (Papoulakis) of Vatopaidi Monastery, Mt Athos, traveled throughout Greece, teaching the people and bolstering their faith. The date of March 25 is recognized as Greek Independence Day for the significance of Bishop Germanos of Old Patros blessing the Greek banner at Agia Lavra at the beginning of the revolt on March 25, 1821 (see the image above, click to enlarge).

The Orthodox Church has always traditionally seen God's providential hand acting in contemporary events. Natural disasters, plagues, foreign invasion and subjugation under alien armies and false religions — as with Israel in the Old Testament — are interpreted as prophetic events, always calling us back to repentance, and providentially allowed by God to spur us to seek Christ and seek to be found in Him. The Greeks heeded this prophetic understanding of the Muslim takeover of Byzantium and Greece, and thus their Orthodox faith was the key component of their battle for freedom from four centuries (think of it!) of Muslim domination and persecution.

As we see the Islamic resurgence rising all around the world like an evil tide — with Muslim leaders and clerics alike calling for a million-man march on Jerusalem (the capitol of Israel), calling for the annihilation of Israel and the United States, calling for the overthrow of Rome, for turning Buckingham Palace into a mosque, calling for flying the flag of Islam over the White House — we must not merely resist in a secular sense, but must turn to the Lord and His Church in heartfelt repentance.

Dire times are surely ahead, yet we have the promises of Christ, who told us, "Do not fear those who can only kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do" (LK 12:4), and "Shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?" Christ assures us that He will "avenge us speedily!" (LK 18:7)

"Yet when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (LK 18:8)

Saturday, March 24, 2012


From Pravoslavie.ru

An Appeal to the readers of Pravoslavie.ru/Orthodox Christianity,
And to all those willing to help the Church in Kosovo and Metochia

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For two decades now, a terrible tragedy has unfolded on Serbian soil—the Orthodox people of Kosovo and Metochia are being pushed out of their native land. During the past years, thousands of Christians have been murdered, many churches and monasteries desecrated and destroyed. This lawlessness is going on even today.

There is no other land in the world like Kosovo and Metochia, where so many churches and monasteries were built on such a small territory. The very name “Metochia” translates as “Church land”. This is truly an ancient, holy land of the Church.

250,000 Kosovo Serbs were forced to flee their ancestral homeland after 1999. Nevertheless, there are still Orthodox Christians living there. They refuse to leave, because they feel and with their whole heart and soul that Holy Orthodoxy must be preserved on their native soil, even under the most difficult circumstances, even in an extremely unfriendly, antagonistic environment.

In certain cities of Kosovo and Metochia, there remain literally just a few courageous Orthodox people, outcasts in their own homeland, who refuse to allow the candle of Orthodoxy to be extinguished in this ancient Christian land. Services are conducted in monasteries and churches, although the monks living in these monasteries cannot even leave their enclosures without risking life and limb. In order to go out and obtain their basic material needs, they have to be guarded by international armed forces.

Despite the enormous political and material hardships, the Serbian Church is caring for their people’s salvation. With its blessing, charitable organizations, medical centers, and free “people’s kitchens” are active in Kosovo. In these kitchens, people who have lost their jobs and food sources receive daily nourishment.

No doubt it would be much safer to abandon these places and move to Central Serbia. But several thousand Serbian Christians remain in the homeland of their Orthodox ancestors, carrying on a daily ascetic struggle unknown and largely misunderstood by the world.

Not long ago, Serbian Orthodox Christians performed yet another true and astonishing feat of self denial. They sent to Kosovo what is dearest to them—their own children. In the city of Prizren, inhabited almost exclusively by Albanians, one of the oldest theological seminaries of the Serbian Church was reopened after many years of desolation. Youths age 15–16 were sent there to study, and t become the future priests of Christ’s Holy Church. Unfortunately, the Albanians living around the seminary behave very aggressively toward them. For safety reasons, none of these youths ever leave the seminary enclosure.

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 The students of the Prizren seminary. Fall, 2011.
The students of the Prizren seminary. Fall, 2011.

These courageous young Christians live the entire semester within the seminary walls, and all their basic needs—food, medicine, and clothing—are brought to them from Serbia. The entire seminary, both the church and the school buildings, were looted and burned in 2004. Now only a small portion has been rebuilt.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, we have begun a collection of aid for the seminary in Prizren, and for other monasteries and churches of Kosovo. As hard as it may be for us in these days of economic pressure, the Serbs of Kosovo are experiencing unimaginable difficulties.

The brothers of Sretensky Monastery will also be donating a part of the proceeds from their book publishing and agricultural enterprises to the Orthodox in Kosovo. with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and on his behalf, we also call upon you, brothers and sisters everywhere, to participate in this charitable endeavor to help those Christians courageously preserving the Orthodox faith in one of the most sacred, and yet most troubled areas of the world. After Pascha, a delegate from Sretensky Monastery will bring these donations to Kosovo.

On behalf and with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, we especially ask your prayers for the suffering Serbian Church.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). May the Lord grant that by our small efforts, by our widow’s drachma, we might at least ease the very difficult lives of our Orthodox brothers and sisters, support them, and not let the candle of Orthodoxy go out in Kosovo.

Bank information for donations in US dollars
СОR. АСС No 890-0085-681
Account No 40703840200200143316
VO 70030
For the Serbian Church in Kosovo

Bank information for donations in euros

COR. ACC № 0102912011
Account No 40703978400202143316
VO 70030
For the Serbian Church in Kosovo

All questions regarding aid to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metochia may be sent tokosovo@pravoslavie.ru

Archbishop of Canterbury says wearing a cross does not offend non-Christians

We thank the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for providing us with a 'teachable moment' so urgently needed in our time, and right during the mid-period of Great Lent, when the Cross is brought out into the center of the Church for the faithful to venerate.

Actually, with due respect to Rev. Dr. Williams, the cross displayed anywhere — on a necklace, on a bumper sticker, on a wall (remember Obama requiring Georgetown University to cover the crosses when he delivered a speech there?), and especially the practice of reverently making the sign of the cross when one prays, blesses one's food, etc. — can and does and ought to offend non-Christians, because the display of a cross, and especially making the sign of the cross, is precisely a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. (We'll leave aside the profane display of the cross by pop-stars and rapper as mere "bling." That doesn't seem to offend anyone but us Christians!)

The Lord Jesus Christ warned his disciples — and us, through them, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (Jn 15:20). And the Apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that the cross is a scandal (Greek: skandalon, stumbling block) and madness (Greek: moria, foolishness) to those who are perishing:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:18, 22-24).

Of course, many secular people today sneer at the cross and mock Christians, precisely because they see Christians failing to live as Christians (myself being the worst offender). They see the cross emptied of its power and therefore mock those who call themselves followers of Christ.

Yet the Cross itself is not bereft of power, and wherever there is one faithful Christian laboring to bear his or her cross and following Christ in faithfulness, there the foolishness of the cross becomes the power and wisdom of God.

There is one group which especially hates the cross, and is exceedingly offended by it, and that is the group whose prophet and founder prophesied that Jesus would return at the end of time to "break all the crosses." The Qur'an (proving its human origins) regurgitates an earlier heresy, claiming feverishly that Jesus was not crucified. The Qur'an explicitly denies the divinity of Christ, threatening Christians with eternal hellfire, claiming that the disciples of Christ corrupted his message, and even putting words into Jesus' mouth to that effect. Islam opposes itself against Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, because if Jesus truly is Who He said He is, if He is truly Who the Church has always taught Him to be, then Islam has no reason to exist, for the Cross is the end of all man-made religion.

We must remember that when we speak of the Cross of Christ, it is always inseparably joined to the worship of His resurrection. And His resurrection proves the finality of God's revelation, proves that Christ has conquered death, and proves that there is but one Way, one Truth, and one Life: Jesus Christ.

I am posting below the entire entry on this story from Jihad Watch, for the author (Marisol) makes some good points in the context of the purpose of the post. Yet we must never forget that if we are living an authentic and faithful Christian life, "acquiring the Holy Spirit" as St Seraphim of Sarov would say, then the cross will be manifest in our lives, and it will cause offense. Only those Christians for whom the cross is little more than an empty symbol — the form of religion without the power thereof — could erroneously say that the cross should not cause offense.

A sad 'thank you' to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams of the increasingly anemic and apostate Anglican communion, for giving us such a teachable moment.

Archbishop of Canterbury says wearing a cross does not offend non-Christians

Except when it does, and the display of crosses is forbidden under Sharia. In a country already struggling with the consequences of enabling creeping Sharia, and of a broader campaign of reckless multiculturalist social engineering, further concessions must be resisted. Those aspects of the issue must not be left out of the discussion, as they are here.
Williams is quite correct, however, that no one in British society ought to be treating the cross as something offensive. On so many levels, that is not in keeping with British tradition, culture, or civil society, and banning the display of crosses to avoid causing "offense" would simply validate the notion that going up the wall over a cross is somehow justified. That would set an awful precedent.
"Archbishop of Canterbury: wearing a cross does not offend non-Christians," by John-Paul Ford Rojas for the Telegraph, March 16:
In a candid interview Dr Rowan Williams said he did not believe that Christianity was losing the battle against secularisation in Britain but said that the arguments were being clouded by 'dim-witted prejudice.'
"What I think slightly shadows the whole thing is this sense that there are an awful lot of people now of a certain generation who don't really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular, and that leads to confusions, sensitivities in the wrong areas - 'does wearing a cross offend people who have no faith or non-Christians?' well I don't think it does.
"But people worry that it will. That is partly because there is a slight tone deafness about how religious belief works.
"I think there is also a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity, which sometimes clouds the discussion."...
It is not simply ignorance, however. Some people do know exactly what they want and exactly what they are doing, and they are finding common cause against Christianity in public life. The multiculturalist double standard in British society invites Sharia to fill the vacuum.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Message of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia

In a powerful exhortation found on Pravmir.com,  Schema-Archimandrite Avraam offers a pointed analysis of our spiritual condition as modern Orthodox Christians, specifically in comparison to the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebastia (commemorated on March 22). The entire homily is most worthwhile, but I wanted to share the below excerpt in particular, which is a stirring encouragement to us on our Lenten journey, and because it seems quite prophetic with its reminder of the condition of Russian Orthodox believers a hundred years ago, on the threshold of sufferings which were unimaginable at the time.

The Courage and Grace of Martyrdom: Sermon on the Feast Day of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia

...We normally call those who suffered for Christ “martyrs” or “passion-bearers,” while the Greeks, following ancient tradition, call them “witnesses,” because they believe that one who has endured such martyrdom, thereby showing extraordinary and superhuman courage, is a witness to the truth of the Orthodox confession of faith and of the Orthodox Church. [1] For how else but by one’s life can one prove one’s case? If we were to embark on studies, arguments, and debates, and come out victorious, surpassing all others by our intelligence, yet all the while showing cowardice in our actions, then we would have shown that we ourselves are not in fact convinced, or that we hold only common human convictions that, for reasons of fear or trouble, can be forgone out of a sense of self-preservation. It is for this reason that martyrs are called witnesses: by their own lives and struggles they demonstrate more convincingly than any apologist or theologian the truth of Christianity.
What helped them in accomplishing this? What did they have that we lack? History itself offers us an explanation, especially the history of the suffering of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia. We see that after they had shown their longsuffering, a supernatural Divine light suddenly appeared, shining upon them and even warming the air. But the main thing is not the warming of the air and water that the martyrs were in, but that God’s grace, this Divine light, penetrated their souls and hearts and, as it were, began to shine forth from within them, thereby rendering them capable of bravery beyond nature. God’s grace gave them the strength to endure that which exceeds the capabilities of not only the ordinary person, but even of an especially strong spirit and, as we have just said, of a person of strong will. It is namely God’s grace that makes us capable of performing that which is beyond nature. It helps us to endure all the afflictions that our enemy, the devil, has in store for us to turn us away from the true path. 
Sometimes these afflictions are indeed terrible, as for instance those that befell the Martyrs of Sebastia or the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, who suffered in recent years. But sometimes the devil uses small afflictions and troubles, not requiring of us an explicit renunciation of Christ, but nonetheless imperceptibly compelling us to behave in an un-Christian manner. But we, underestimating the importance of these seemingly minor occurrences, sin much and often – and in fact, as deplorable and terrible as this may sound, we are apostates.
We are constantly betraying the Gospel commandments, reckoning them as nothing, but for some reason thinking that were some special trial to befall our lot – such as that which befell the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia – that we would show steadfastness, because we would recognize that in this case it is clearly a matter of salvation or perdition, of confessing Christ or of denying Him. But the devil tempts us through many small things: small, insignificant, minor incidents; mild afflictions; small temptations. We do not take care to have God’s grace always present in us; we do not acquire it by increased prayer, repentance, and the painstaking fulfillment of our Christian duty, that is, through participation in the divine services, fasting, and so on. We ignore the necessity of forcing ourselves to fulfill the commandments, remaining in negligence, neglect, and carelessness. Thus, we lose the grace that we received in the Mystery of Baptism and that we receive in the Mysteries of Confession and Communion, thereby rendering ourselves powerless over the countless machinations of the devil. Today they are small, but who know what tomorrow will bring?
Let us recall a time that, from the standpoint of history, is relatively recent. Until 1917, Russia was a prosperous, wealthy, and great country, in which people lived comfortably, clergy and monastics included. Russia was flourishing and, according to the prognosis of Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin, promised to become a great power in economic terms, perhaps such as the Unites States is today. [2] However, people fell into carelessness, began to neglect the Gospel commandments in small ways, and were deprived of God’s grace. The Lord allowed a terrible social scourge to seize our country. And those very people who thought they were living in a Christian country, that thought they had not committed any grave sins – and if they had sinned, had repented – showed cowardice and weakness, betraying their Sovereign, their Motherland, and the Orthodox Church. Very, very many people behaved treacherously to their neighbors. During the time of persecution many people fell away from the Church, while others renounced their sacred office – not only priests, but also monastics and bishops. Of course, there were many brave people – confessors and martyrs – but there was an even greater number of cowardly people. They were unable to endure their trials because they did not have God’s grace, the acquisition of which, in the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, is the goal of Christian life.
Indeed, we take trouble to acquire property and to ensure the welfare of ourselves and of our loved ones, considering this our duty. Why, then, are we negligent in acquiring God’s grace? Why do we make ourselves defenseless and empty? Due to our personal weaknesses and our limited human capacities, we naturally cannot resist every temptation and affliction that the devil raises against the Orthodox Church. But the Church is you and I – it is neither the walls of the church, nor the hierarchy, nor the ecclesiastical administration. The Orthodox Church is every Orthodox person, whoever he may be, whether laymen, monk, priest, or bishop. And if the devil is leveling such persecution against the Church that the Savior Himself compared it to the gates of hell (cf. Matthew 16:18), then how watchful and sober must we be! How must we labor for the acquisition of Divine help, which is above nature, in order to stand fast against everything that the devil levels against us, wishing to tear us away from the Church and to destroy us! But so long as we are united to the Church, nothing can defeat us.
This is what distinguishes martyrs from all other people. Both the martyrs of the fourth century, such as the soldiers who suffered in Lake Sebaste, and the martyrs of the twentieth century, who suffered in camps and exile; both those whose bones were crushed with hammers, and those who were shot with revolvers and pistols – they all had the same advantage over us: they had the grace of God. This is what elevates man above his own nature.
Let us not grow negligent, reassuring ourselves that now everything is just fine. We do not know what trials await each one of us. Perhaps the temptations we face will make us prefer to suffer some incurable illness and physical suffering rather than have our souls succumb to sinful impulses we are powerless to resist. Therefore, let us not be negligent; let us pray day and night; let us strive with all our strength and at all times to force ourselves to be with God, with the grace of God. The Lord sees our intentions and sees our hearts. In return for our humility, repentance, and forcing of ourselves, He protects us from all spiritual and bodily afflictions – although this does not mean that we will live comfortably and successfully. May the Lord grant us steadfastness, courage, and faith, that in time of temptation we might act as true Christians. Amen.
Delivered on March 22, 2003, at the Novo-Tikhvin Women’s Monastery in Ekaterinburg, of which Fr. Avraam is the spiritual father.
[1] The Greek word martys, from which the English word “martyr” is derived, literally means “witness.”
[2] Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin (1862-1911) was appointed Prime Minister by the Tsar Nicholas II in 1906. He was fatally shot by a political radical in Kiev on September 14, 1911, in the presence of the Tsar and his two eldest daughters. Immediately after being shot Stolypin cried out “I am happy to die for the Tsar” and blessed the Tsar-Martyr with the sign of the cross. 

Spread by the Sword

Here is another essential article from Raymond Ibrahim which I feel obligated to share. Raymond is one of our most important voices, both for his solid historical scholarship and global perspective (being multi-lingual, of Coptic descent, and having lived for many years in the Islamic world), as well as for his unique ability as a writer to clearly link the past with the present, demonstrating continuity and context not only across the centuries (vertically), but across the cultures (horizontally) where Islam has dominated.

The Historical Reality of the Muslim Conquests

by Raymond Ibrahim

Because it is now almost axiomatic for American school textbooks to whitewash all things Islamic (see here for example), it may be instructive to examine one of those aspects that are regularly distorted: the Muslim conquests.

Few events of history are so well documented and attested to as are these conquests, which commenced soon after the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (632) and tapered off circa 750. Large swathes of the Old World—from the India in the east, to Spain in the west—were conquered and consolidated by the sword of Islam during this time, with more after (e.g., the Ottoman conquests).

By the standards of history, the reality of these conquests is unassailable, for history proper concerns itself with primary sources; and the Islamic conquests are thoroughly documented. More importantly, the overwhelming majority of primary source materials we rely on do not come from non-Muslims, who might be accused of bias. Rather, the foremost historians bequeathing to posterity thousands of pages of source materials documenting the Islamic conquests were not only Muslims themselves; they were—and still are—regarded by today's Muslims as pious and trustworthy scholars (generically, the ulema).

Among the most authoritative books devoted to recounting the conquests are: Ibn Ishaq's (d. 767) Sira ("Life of Muhammad"), the oldest biography of Muhammad; Waqidi's (d. circa. 820) Maghazi ("Military Campaigns [of the Prophet]"); Baladhuri's (d. 892) Futuh al-Buldan ("Conquests of the Nations"); and Tabari's (d.923) multi-volume Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, ("History of Prophets and Kings"), which is 40 volumes in the English translation.

Taken together, these accounts (which are primarily based on older accounts—oral and written—tracing back to Muhammad and his successors) provide what was once, and in the Muslim world still is, a famous story: that Allah had perfected religion (Islam) for all humanity; that he commanded his final prophet (Muhammad) and community (Muslims) to spread Islam to the world; and that the latter was/is to accept it either willingly or unwillingly (jihad).

It should be noted that contemporary non-Muslim accounts further validate the facts of the conquests. The writings of the Christian bishop of Jerusalem Sophronius (d.638), for instance, or the chronicles of the Byzantine historian Theophanes (d.758), to name a couple, make clear that Muslims conquered much of what is today called the "Muslim world."

According to the Muslim historical tradition, the majority of non-Muslim peoples of the Old World, not desiring to submit to Islam or its laws (Sharia), fought back, though most were eventually defeated and subsumed.

The first major conquest, renowned for its brutality, occurred in Arabia itself, immediately after Muhammad's death in 632. Many tribes which had only nominally accepted Islam's authority, upon Muhammad's death, figured they could break away; however, Muhammad's successor and first caliph, or successor, Abu Bakr, would have none of that, and proclaimed a jihad against these apostates, known in Arabic as the "Ridda Wars" (or Apostasy Wars). According to the aforementioned historians, tens of thousands of Arabs were put to the sword until their tribes re-submitted to Islam.

The Ridda Wars ended around 634. To keep the Arab Muslims from quarreling, the next caliph, Omar, launched the Muslim conquests: Syria was conquered around 636, Egypt 641, Mesopotamia and the Persian Empire, 650. By the early 8th century, all of north Africa and Spain to the west, and the lands of central Asia and India to the east, were also brought under Islamic suzerainty.

The colorful accounts contained in the Muslim tradition are typified by constant warfare, which normally goes as follows: Muslims go to a new region and offer the inhabitants three choices: 1) submit (i.e., convert) to Islam; 2) live as second-class citizens, or "dhimmis," paying special taxes and accepting several social debilitations; 3) fight to the death.

Centuries later, and partially due to trade, Islam came to be accepted by a few periphery peoples, mostly polytheists and animists, who followed no major religion (e.g., in Indonesia, Somalia), and who currently form the outer fringes of the Islamic world.

Ironically, these exceptions are now portrayed as the rule in America's classrooms: many textbooks suggest or at least imply that most people who converted to Islam did so under no duress, but rather through peaceful contacts with merchants and traders; that they eagerly opted to convert to Islam for the religion's intrinsic appeal, without noting the many debilitations conquered non-Muslims avoided—extra taxes, second-rate social status, enforced humiliation, etc.—by converting to Islam. In fact, in the first century, and due to these debilitations, many conquered peoples sought to convert to Islam only to be rebuffed by the caliphate, which preferred to keep them as subdued—and heavily taxed—subjects, not as Muslim equals.

Meanwhile, as U.S. textbooks equivocate about the Muslim conquests, in the schoolrooms of the Muslim world, the conquests are not only taught as a matter of course, but are glorified: their rapidity and decisiveness are regularly portrayed as evidence that Allah was in fact on the side of the Muslims (and will be again, so long as Muslims uphold their communal duty of waging jihad).

The dissimulation of how Islam was spread in the early centuries contained in Western textbook's mirrors the way the word jihad, once inextricable to the conquests, has also been recast. Whereas the word jihad has throughout the centuries simply meant armed warfare on behalf of Islam, in recent years, American students have been taught the Sufi interpretation of jihad—Sufis make up perhaps one percent of the Islamic world and are often seen as heretics with aberrant interpretations—which portrays jihad as a "spiritual-struggle" against one's vices.

[Note: Although Sufism is "more spiritual" in its practice than Sunni or Shia Islam, it is hardly less disposed towards armed jihad to expand the dar al-Islam. Dr Mark Durie writes,  "In fact, Sufism is a mystical practice, not an alternative to militancy. The great Muslim scholar Al-Ghazali (d. 1111) was a Sufi, but his opinions on the jihad were as militant as any Al Qaida operative's are today."  In 2005, while completing his research for his landmark book The Legacy of Jihad, Andrew Bostom wrote a serious article exposing the aggressive, supremacist views of Ghazali and other Sufi scholars on jihad and non-Muslims, based on texts never before published in English. What Raymond Ibrahim is specifically referring to here is how American textbooks have deceptively put forth as a pan-Islamic concept the spiritual side of jihad which is found in Sufism. Yet even in Sufism, jihad as offensive warfare to advance Islam is clearly extolled and mandated as the primary meaning of the doctrine.]

Contrast this definition of jihad with that of an early edition of the venerable Encyclopaedia of Islam. Its opening sentence simply states, "The spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general.… Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam.… Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated." Muslim legal manuals written in Arabic are even more explicit.

Likewise, the Islamic conquests narrated in the Muslim histories often mirror the doctrinal obligations laid out in Islam's theological texts—the Koran and Hadith. Muslim historians often justify the actions of the early Islamic invaders by juxtaposing the jihad injunctions found in Islamic scriptures.

It should also be noted that, to Muslims, the Islamic conquests are seen as acts of altruism: they are referred to as futuh, which literally means "openings"—that is, the countries conquered were "opened" for the light of Islam to enter and guide its infidel inhabitants. Thus to Muslims, there is nothing to regret or apologize for concerning the conquests; they are seen as for the good of those who were conquered (i.e., the ancestors of today's Muslims).

In closing, the fact of the Muslim conquests, by all standards of history, is indisputable. Accordingly, just as less than impressive aspects of Western and Christian history, such as the Inquisition or conquest of the Americas, are regularly taught in U.S. textbooks, so too should the Muslim conquests be taught, without apology or fear of being politically incorrect. This is especially so because it concerns history—which has a way of repeating itself when ignored, or worse, whitewashed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saudi Grand Mufti calls for 'Destruction of all churches in region"

In his essay below, Raymond Ibrahim relates both an important news item, as well as a telling critique of Western media, politicians and academia.

With regards to 'academia', this type of anti-Christian pronouncement by one of the world's leading Islamic authorities is what our overly cautious scholars and clergy typically avoid when discussing the "nuances" of Islam. In fact, they prefer neither to hear of it, nor comment on it, and often seek to silence those of us who do dare to report and comment on Islam's civilizational and theological jihad.

In my estimation, holding to the meme of "developing a nuanced understanding of Islam" is just an excuse to give Islam a pass and avoid confrontation with adherents of the 'Religion of Peace'. "Nuance" is a codeword which should alert the reader that the author is likely willing to gloss over the extensive Koranic passages and rulings of Islamic jurisprudence which command Muslims to wage jihad until Islam rules the earth, passages which condemn Christians and Jews and other infidels as "the worst of all created beings," passages which are taken very seriously by devout Muslim jihadists. 'Nuance' means ignoring Muhammad's barbarous example and the Islamic imperative to consider him as the ideal man and most perfect pattern of conduct. 'Nuance' means willful blindness and self-censorship when it comes to honest criticism of Islam. 'Nuance' means prevarication and withholding of the truth. Thus, when scholars speak of holding a "nuanced understanding of Islam," they are likely engaging in the Islamic practice of taqiyya, that is, knowingly concealing and obfuscating the truth about the religion of Muhammad.

Here is Raymond Ibrahim's article:

Saudi Grand Mufti Calls for "Destruction of All Churches in Region"

by Raymond Ibrahim
March 14, 2012

According to several Arabic news sources, last Monday, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region."

Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti confirms Islamic hostility for churches.
The Grand Mufti made his assertion in response to a question posed by a delegation from Kuwait, where a parliament member recently called for the "removal" of churches (he later "clarified" by saying he merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait): the delegation wanted to confirm Sharia's position on churches.

Accordingly, the Grand Mufti "stressed that Kuwait was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it."

As with many grand muftis before him, the Sheikh based his proclamation on the famous tradition, or hadith, wherein the prophet of Islam declared on his deathbed that "There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula," which has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced in the region.

While the facts of this account speak for themselves, consider further:
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah is not just some random Muslim hating on churches. He is the Grand Mufti of the nation that brought Islam to the world. Moreover, he is the President of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and Chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. Accordingly, when it comes to what Islam teaches, his words are immensely authoritative.

Considering the hysteria that besets the West whenever non-authoritative individuals offend Islam—for instance, a fringe, unknown pastor—imagine what would happen if a Christian counterpart to the Grand Mufti, say the Pope, were to declare that all mosques in Italy must be destroyed; imagine the nonstop Western media frenzy that would erupt, all the shrill screams of "intolerance" and "bigot," demands for apologies if not resignation, nonstop handwringing by sensitive politicians, and worse.

Yet the Grand Mufti—the highest Islamic law authority of our "friend-and-ally" Saudi Arabia—gets a free pass when he incites Muslims to destroy churches, not that any extra incitement is needed (nary a month goes by without several churches being bombed and destroyed throughout the Islamic world). In fact, at the time of this writing, I have not seen this story, already some three days old, translated on any English news source, though "newsworthy" stories are often translated in mere hours.

Likewise, consider the Grand Mufti's rationale for destroying churches: it is simply based on a hadith. But when non-Muslims evoke hadiths as authoritative—this one or the countless others that incite violence and intolerance against the "infidel"—they are accused of being "Islamophobes," of intentionally slandering and misrepresenting Islam, of being obstacles on the road to "dialogue," and so forth.

Which leads to perhaps the most important point: Islam's teachings are so easily ascertained; there is no mystery in determining what is "right" and "wrong" in Islam. The Grand Mufti based his fatwa on a canonical hadith, which Muslims and (informed) non-Muslims know is part of Islam's sources of jurisprudence (or usul al-fiqh). All very standard and expected. And yet the West—with all its institutions of higher learning, including governmental agencies dealing with cultural and religious questions—is still thoroughly "confused" as to what Islam teaches.

All of this is nothing short of a scandal—a reminder of just how deep the mainstream media, academia, and most politicians have their collective heads thrust in the sand.

Meanwhile, here is the latest piece of evidence of just how bad churches have it in the Muslim world, for those who care to know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III eulogized

From the OCA announcement: Funeral services for His Holiness, Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who fell asleep in the Lord after a lengthy illness on Saturday, March 17, 2012, are expected to be celebrated on Tuesday, March 20 in Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral.

The 117th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church and head of its Holy Synod, Pope Shenouda was born August 3, 1923.  He presided over the Coptic Church since his election on November 14, 1971...

Pope Shenouda presided over a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church in recent time, due primarily to emmigration.  He appointed the first Coptic bishops to serve his Church’s North American dioceses, which number an estimated 200 parishes in the US, 23 in Canada, and one in Mexico, and the first bishops in Australia and South America.

At home, he faced turbulent times, and at one point had been placed under house arrest in a monastery. Shenouda was well known as a man of prayer and asceticism, as reflected in his many writings.  May his memory be eternal!

Read also the statement of the Holy Synod of the OCA (Dec 21, 2011), in which the Synod expressed its concern for and solidarity with the Coptic Church, sent to the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, DC, to the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations, to government authorities in Egypt, and was shared with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Axios to our hierarchs for their support of our persecuted brethren.

Orthodox Christians the world over ought to be commemorating and thanking God for the meek yet lion-hearted Shenouda, whose served as Pope during a period of ever increasing persecution of Christians in Egypt and throughout the Islamic world.

For a dissenting view on His Holiness Shenouda, here is a message from an Egyption Muslim cleric, captured by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), whose diligent work in posting Muslim media broadcasts explodes the myth of a "moderate Islam" and reveals the continuity of Islam's anti-Christian and anti-Semitic core:

Following are excerpts from a statement by Egyptian cleric Wagdi Ghoneim, which was posted on the Internet on March 18, 2012 :
Praise be to Allah. With the grace of Allah, the head of unbelief and polytheism, known as Shenouda, died yesterday, may Allah exact revenge from him. God's worshippers and the trees and the animals were all relieved by his death. Egypt is relieved by his [death], because he generated sectarian strife
This dead accursed criminal, known as Shenouda, was told that the Koran says, in Surat Al-Maida: "And [beware the day] when Allah will say: Oh Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people: Take me and my mother as gods beside Allah?" [Shenouda] said: "We don't take Christ and his mother as gods beside Allah. He Is God."
The truth is that he was very clear in his enmity to Islam. When the Muslim Brothers would chant their slogan: "The Koran is our constitution," he would respond: "The New Testament is our constitution." When they would say: "Death for the sake of Allah is our highest aspiration," he would say: "Death for the sake of Christ is our highest aspiration."
He used to say that Egypt was under Muslim occupation. He demanded to abolish the Islamic shari'a and turn Egypt into a Coptic state. […]
Are we supposed to send condolences or be sad about someone like this? We should be happy that he died. Let him go to Hell. May Allah exact revenge from him in the Hellfire – from him and from all those who follow his path...  

Glory be to God for His Holiness Pope Shenouda, who remained to the end a faithful confessor of Jesus Christ, and completed his life in faith. His courageous spiritual leadership of the Coptic faithful, a tiny island of Christians surrounded by a sea of raging hatred, epitomized Psalm 120:7: "I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war."

May his soul dwell with the righteous, and may his memory be eternal...

Update on Egyptian Cleric Wagdi Ghoneim: This fellow has previously gone on the record as stating that democracy is based on heresy, and that Copts and Christians should not have equal rights under Egyptian law. See his TV interviews here and here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Syria's Christians Fleeing to Lebanon

The below article with preface by Jihad Watch looks at the decaying situation for Christians in Syria. Syria had been one of the few Muslim countries where Christians lived in tenuous peace. Now might be a good time for the United States to assist Syrian Christian refugees who wish to emigrate to the USA.

The fall of the Assad regime will make Syria's Christians targets for two reasons: first, they benefited from where the Baath regime contradicted Sharia on the role of Christians in society. Secondly, and for the longer term, they are Christians, and they are marked for subjugation under Sharia.
What breaks out as Assad's enemies divide the spoils of the fallen regime, settle scores, and vie for power will not be "tolerance" as we know it. "Syrian Christians Fleeing to Lebanon," from CatholicCulture, March 8:
Amid reports that 1,000 Syrians are now fleeing the country daily for Lebanon, the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Lebanon described the Church's response.
"We have direct experience of Christian families who have fled to Syria [from] the violence or the oppression of the regime," said Father Paul Karam. "There are families who have relatives in Lebanon who have fled here and want to change their lives, looking for work. The Church's response in Lebanon was the hospitality and care of these people: we host them in parishes, provide food and clothing, we assist them at an economic level and insert them into the social fabric."
"As a Church we reiterate that we are against violence," he added. "We want to promote peace and encourage dialogue. As for the Christians, the danger that looms is a scenario like Iraq, where Christians are forced to flee the country. The risk is that a dictatorial regime is replaced with an Islamist type which imposes the Sharia."
Source: Jihad Watch 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Speaking of Iconoclasm and the Breaking of Crosses...

Dr Mark Durie has written a solid and measured piece on the recent desecration of Christian (and Jewish) WWII war graves in Libya by a Muslim group. Contrary to assertions in the media that this act was in retaliation for the burning of Koran's in Afghanistan, Durie uses this incident to trace the history and continuity of Islam's hatred of the cross directly back to Muhammad, and to a prophecy of his in a hadith where he claims Jesus will return to "break the crosses," i.e., destroy Christianity. 'Breaking the Crosses' has always been a central tenet of Islam.

This is a must read as we continue to educate ourselves on orthodox Islam's traditional, canonical position vis a vis Orthodox Christianity.

Desecrating Christian and Jewish Graves in Libya
Mark Durie
March 5, 2012

Many commentators have expressed outrage at the recent destruction of British and Canadian war graves in Benghazi, Libya (in this YouTube Video).

I watched the video and saw, not just the desecration of graves, but attacks on crosses.  The radical Muslims in the video who are kicking over and smashing headstones marked with crosses (and one with a Star of David), also take pains to demolish a tall 'Cross of Sacrifice' standing at the edge of the cemetery.  This is no 'furious mob' on a 'rampage' as a Daily Mail report put it, a distorted report which beggars belief.  Nor is there any evidence in what the men are recorded as saying that they are angry or reacting to Koran burning by the US military.  They are methodically, deliberately, and in an organized fashion, going about destroying crosses and objects marked with crosses.  Their mood seems happy, even celebratory.  Every now and again a cry Allahu Akbar rings out.  Or a chuckle of joy.  They pass comments on the graves as they kick them over:  "Break the cross that belongs to those dogs",  "This is the grave of a Christian', and "This tomb has a cross on it, a kaffir [disbeliever]".

An Australian government minister, Craig Emerson, whose father served in Libya in World War II, commented "There is nothing in Islam that would warrant this sort of behavior."

But is this true?  Or just wishful thinking?

Certainly many Libyans and Muslims of other nationalities have expressed their abhorrence of these acts.  It would be completely wrong to attribute sympathy for such an attack to Muslims as whole.

But all the same, was this attack on war graves truly senseless and without foundation or precedent in Islam?  Regrettably, the answer must be 'No'.

The phenomenon of cross-destruction goes back to the life and example of Muhammad.  A tradition reported by al-Waqidi said that if ever Muhammad found an object in his house with the mark of a cross on it, he would destroy it. (W. Muir, The Life of Muhammad. Volume 3, p.61, note 47.)

In the YouTube video, when one of the men says 'Break the cross that belongs to those dogs', he uses the same classical Arabic phrase 'break the cross' (the Arabic root is k.s.r 'break') which is found in a famous hadith (tradition) about Jesus — understood in Islam to be a Muslim prophet — who will return to the earth as a cross-destroying sharia enforcer:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, ‘By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, surely [Jesus,] the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly [as a Just Ruler]; he will break the cross and kill the pigs and there will be no jizya [i.e. no taxation taken from non Muslims: because they will all be forced to convert to Islam]. …’ (Sahih al-BukhariThe Book of the Stories of the Prophets. 4:60:3448.)
This phrase 'break the cross' is religious and ritualistic in its overtones, invoking as it does the canon of Islam.  It is like a Christian saying 'forgive us our trespasses' or 'deliver us from evil'.  This is a clear reference to the words of Muhammad, and invokes his authority for the deed being performed.

To pious Muslims, Muhammad is regarded as the 'best example' for Muslims to follow, so it is hardly surprising if his enmity to the cross is shared by at least some Muslims today, and they recite his words while emulating his deeds.  The following are just some of many examples of cross destruction which can be culled from media reports of recent years:

  • Two days before Christmas in 1998, a Catholic church in Faisalabad, Pakistan had its crucifix pulled down by a Muslim leader.
  • On March 18, 2004, an Albanian mob attacked and desecrated the church of St Andrew in Podujevo, Kosovo. Photographs distributed to the international media show Muslims, who had climbed up onto the roof, breaking off the prominent metal crosses attached there. There have also been many instances of Muslim mobs smashing crosses in Christian graveyards acrossKosovo.
  • In April 2007, in the Al-Doura Christian area of Baghdad, Muslim militants instructed Christians to remove visible crosses from atop their churches, and issued a fatwa forbidding Christians from wearing crosses.
  • When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, some of its militias went on a cross-destroying rampage. The Rosary Sisters convent and school in Gaza was ransacked and looted by masked men and crosses were specifically targeted for destruction. A Christian resident of Gaza also reported having a crucifix ripped from his neck by someone from the Hamas Executive Force, who said ‘That is forbidden.’
  • On Monday 29 October 2007, in the Malaysian Parliament, a parliamentarian, Tuan Syed Hood bin Syed Edros complained about the ‘display of religious symbols’ in front of church schools: ‘I, as a responsible person to my religion, race, and country, I state my views that … these crosses need to be destroyed …’
  •  Michael Yon has reported on an poster found in Afghanistan ("Destroying the cross is an Islamic obligation") which instructs Muslims to destroy objects with crosses on them.
Antipathy to the cross among Muslims is not limited to Islamic societies.  In November 2004, Belmarsh Prison in England was reported to have plans to spend £1.6 million on a mosque. The facility already maintains a multi-denominational chapel, but this has been rejected for use by the Muslim inmates, some of whom had been convicted on terrorism charges, because the chapel contains crosses which have to be covered up when the Muslims say their prayers.
    No less a figure than the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was compelled to remove his pectoral cross when he had to make a forced stop in Saudi Arabia in 1995. The incident is described by David Skidmore in the Episcopal News Service:
    Carey’s flight out of Cairo for Sudan was forced to make an intermediary stop in Saudi Arabia. On the approach to the Red Sea coastal city of Jidda, Saudi Arabia, Carey was told to remove all religious insignia, including his clerical collar and pectoral cross.
    There is another pattern at work here, which is the destruction of non-Muslim (infidel) graves and religious heritage.  The Taliban's destruction of ancient Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan is a well known example, as was the deliberate destruction of around 38,000 Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives, some of which were over 1,000 years old, during Jordan's occupation of Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.

    It must also be acknowledged that radical Sunni Muslims have a long history of destroying even Muslim graves, if they have become sites of pilgrimage and veneration.  The Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia have been known for more than one hundred years for destroying venerated grave sites, including those of some of Muhammad's own relatives (see a Shi'ite lament here).  In Libya Salafists have also been busy destroying graves of Sufi saints.  Likewise, in Somalia the al-Shabab movement has been destroying Sufi graves (as well as war graves of Christians: see here).

    In the light of all these parallels, the destruction of this cemetery cannot be regarded as simply a senseless act done by a 'rampaging mob'.  It was a thoughtful, deliberate act, a ritualistic act which conforms to a widely attested pattern, namely the destruction of crosses, support for which can be found in canonical Islamic sources and the teaching of Muhammad.  It also conforms to a pattern of destruction of grave sites, of both non-Muslims and Muslims, by Muslims.

    This event had little if anything to do with Koran-burning by the US military.