Monday, September 30, 2013

Canada: Jihad mass murder plotter says there is no moderate or radical Islam — 'There is only one Islam'

This echoes what Turkish Prime Minister and Islam proponent Erdogan has stated: "The Term 'Moderate Islam' is ugly and offensive; There is no moderate Islam; Islam is Islam."

Train terror suspect: 9-11 was a 'tap on the cheek'
from The Canadian Press via Jihad Watch — 9/26/2013

One of the Via terror suspects has called the 9-11 attacks a "tap on the cheek" compared to the violence committed by the West.

Chiheb Esseghaier is quoted telling La Presse in a prison interview that the Iraq embargo, Afghanistan conflict and support for Israel are examples of the West "plunging a knife into the body" of the Muslim world, by comparison.

La Presse says that, over the course of two interviews, Esseghaier never denied the charges against him. He is one of two people accused of plotting to cause a train disaster in the Niagara region.

According to the newspaper the Tunisian-born scientist also appeared to offer a vaguely worded hint that he is far from unique: "I am only a drop of water in the sea. A detail," he is quoted as having repeated multiple times.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Violence against Egyptian Christians Reaches a Level Not Seen for Centuries

By Todd Daniels — ICC — 9/26/2013

9/26/2013 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “I'm afraid to get out from my home and walk in the streets of the village. The situation is so dangerous for us here,Father Youannis Shawky, a Coptic priest, told ICC. 

This sentiment is shared by many in the Christian community throughout Egypt, as Christians have increasingly come under attack for their part in the protests to remove Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office. The retaliation against Christians from Islamists has included the looting and burning of houses, churches, schools, and businesses. It has also become personal, as kidnapping and threats against individuals have been on the rise. In the city of Delga, in Upper Egypt, Islamist gangs took control, holding it captive for more than two months before security forces moved in. 

A City without Protection

Father Youannis is a priest of St. Mary and Anba Abraam Monastery in Delga, Egypt. The city of 120,000 people, including 15,000 Christians, had been under the control of hardline supporters of former President Morsi for nearly two months. 

On Monday, September 16, Egyptian authorities staged an operation to retake the town. As the Guardian reports, “Two earlier attempts to retake Delga failed, but in the early hours of Monday morning police launched a third and decisive assault, and have now re-entered the town.”

The takeover by Morsi supporters occurred following his removal from office on July 3, when armed gangs in the city ran off the security forces and seized control. The situation for the Coptic Christian community became terrifying as many of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters blame the Christians for their loss of political power. 

Speaking with International Christian Concern from Delga on September 12, Adel Shafik, a Coptic activist said, “From August 14 till now, more than 52 Christian families lost their homes, their homes were ransacked, burned, and demolished.” He added that “more than 40 Christian families left the village fearing from the threats of the Muslim fanatics to them.” 

The destruction did not stop with just homes, but also included many of the church buildings in the city. “Our monastery which includes three churches, St Mary Church, Mar Gigis Church, and Anba Abraam Church were looted, burned and demolished. Now we don't have any another place to pray in,” Shafik said. 

The level of violence has reached a level unseen in centuries. As ICC reported, on August 18th, services were cancelled at the church for the first time in 1,600 years. Days earlier, the church, which dates back to the Fifth century, was looted and set on fire while calls for help went unanswered by the security forces, Christian Post recounted

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hell in the Land That Speaks the Language of Christ

Straight news reporting can only say so much. Here is a haunting impression of the suffering of Christians in Maaloula and their beloved archpastor, Patriarch John X of Antioch.  Lord have mercy.

Hell in the Land That Speaks the Language of Christ
by Aimilios Polygenis via Mystagogy — 9/26/2013

In Syria there are not only victims of a civil war that seems to have no end. The people of Assad and the rebels are not the only ones fighting. There has manifested in Syria another war, even if it is indirect - the religious one.

In the ancient Christian city of Maaloula, Islamic organizations with ties to Al Qaeda have begun a war in this land for a while now. And though Christians may not be their direct target, they have become on a daily basis "collateral damage". Nobody cares about what will happen to them.

Obama: Dhimmi or Dunce?

by Timothy Furnish, PhD — FrontPageMag — 9/26/2013

Timothy R. Furnish holds a PhD in Islamic History and is an author, analyst, and consultant to the US military who specializes in transnational Islamic movements, eschatology and Mahdism. His website is

When I went to Iran in 2008 (to attend and present a paper at the annual Mahdism conference there) one of the Muslim presenters spoke about the future Mahdiyah as a global state where Christians would be given the choice to convert to Islam and acknowledge the returned Twelfth Imam—or be put to death.  Alas, as anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows, neither Shi`i nor Sunni  (al-Shabab; Syrian jihadists; Pakistanis) Muslims are waiting for the Mahdi to persecute Christians.  Indeed, despite being the world’s largest religion in number of adherents (2.2 billion), Christians are the world’s most-persecuted believers of any stripe—and mostly at the hands of followers of the world’s second-largest religion: eight of the top ten most dangerous countries for Christians are majority Muslim.

So it is indeed “open season on Christians.”   Yet other than Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and, before he stepped down from the chair of St. Peter, Benedict XVI—no major world leader or organization has spoken up, much less fought for, Christians.  Case in point: President Obama gave a long speech at the United Nations Tuesday and stated that the two greatest problems emanating from the Middle East are Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   The chronic and toxic torment of his own co-religionists was never mentioned—except in passing reference to undesignated “terrorists” and “extremists” who engage in “sectarian conflict.”

Obama’s white-washing of Islamic violence—rooted, that is, in the Qur’an and in both the examples and hadiths (alleged sayings) of Muhammad, Islam’s founder—extended even to the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the president once again adduced a purported fatwa against nuclear weapons by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei, which does not, in fact, exist.

Obama pointed out that “the U.N. was designed to prevent wars between states” but “increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states” [emphases added].  His reference clearly was to Syria, but nary a presidential peep was uttered about equally-horrific venues where Christians are being butchered, such as Nigeria, Pakistan or Iraq; or where churches were burned, as in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood; or where Christians are not even allowed to have churches, as in Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, relative to Syria, Obama’s obsession with international treaties and norms is rather selective:  violating the Geneva Convention rubrics on chemical weapons is reason to use military force; but breaching Geneva Convention genocide prohibitions—which include “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”—elicits no such outrage on the part of Obama, Sec of State Kerry or Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan when Christians are the victims. This despite the fact that a Sudanese Anglican bishop has written to Obama, asking him to help persecuted Christians in Sudan.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Status of Women in Islam (with two videos)

Muslim apologists put forward the claim that Islam liberated women in the 7th century and ever after. Our federal government, via the National Park Service (who knew they were so concerned over promoting Islam instead of running the National Parks!), is promoting this utter fabrication via a new video series:

From the first part of the 3 videos at the 4:45 mark:
People think that Islam oppresses women and there’s no equality, but they’re wrong – there’s equity… 7th century A.D. Islam gave women the right to be involved in politics, the right to earn and keep her own money. Islam gave women the right to work outside of the home, Islam gave women the right to own property, Islam gave women the right to divorce, Islam gave women the right to choose who she marries. Islam gave women a whole bunch of rights that Western women acquired later in the 19th and 20th centuries and we’ve had these rights since the 7th century A.D. and it’s just not acknowledged worldwide.

It should be noted that the Muslim Brotherhood strongly condemned the UN's Declaration on Women's Rights. And women in Afghanistan would likely disagree with the National Park's Islamic Promotional Service.

Thankfully, David Wood over at Answering Muslims, sets the record straight using Islamic source texts, including hadiths about Muhammad's actual teachings about women, and specific verses from the Quran, in this brief presentation:

Mr. Wood goes on to note:

According to the Qur'an, Muslim men can beat their wives into submission (4:34) and rape their female captives (4:24). Muhammad taught his followers that the testimony of women is unreliable because women are stupid and immoral (Qur'an 2:282; Sahih al-Bukhari 2658; Sahih Muslim 142). Muhammad's wife Aisha even said that, in her lifetime, Muslim women were treated worse than non-Muslim women (Sahih al-Bukhari 5825). Amazingly, modern Muslims claim that Islam liberates women! 
For the full citations of the sources used by David Wood, visit the Answering Muslims post, The Truth About Women in Islam.

In my book, FACING ISLAM, I contrast Islam's view of women with that of Christianity:

Ma'loula Martyr: "I am a Christian, and if you want to kill me for this, I do not object to it"

This humble confession of faith in Jesus Christ is virtually identical to that often uttered by the Holy Neo-Martyrs under the Ottoman Muslims: "I am an Orthodox Christian, and I shall die an Orthodox Christian."

The "extremists" in Syria are strictly following the example of Muhammad and orthodox Islamic teaching on jihad, as they invite their victims to renounce Jesus Christ and accept Islam, to become a Muslim. If they refuse, they are killed. And they inherit an eternal crown for confessing Jesus Christ unto death.

You can learn more about the Neo-Martyrs via Witnesses for Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period, 1437-1860.

We are witnessing in the early 21st century a new harvest of neomartyrs, in the savage persecution of Christians throughout the Islamic world.

Damascus, September 18, 2013

"I am a Christian, and if you want to kill me for this, I do not object to it" - such were the last words of one of three Christians, killed by extremists after their refusal to accept Islam in Ma'loula, which has already become famous among the faithful as "a land of Martyrs".

Christians of Syria call Ma'loula "a land of Martyrs" after this small Christian town was several times attacked by various armed groups.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Islam and Extremism: What is Underneath

This is an outstanding article surveying the challenge of Islam. Please take the time to read and share widely.

By William DiPuccio, Ph.D. —

William DiPuccio holds a Ph.D. in religious studies and has authored numerous articles and essays on both religion and science.  He has also worked and taught in both fields.  You can find his blog, Science Et Cetera, at

[ Gatestone Institute, November 1, 2012.  Revised and expanded, February 23, 2013. ]
Reposted by permission of the author.

NOTE: Footnote links will link back to the footnotes at

An excursion into the blogosphere reveals the polarization which attends Islamic issues.  Comment areas are populated with readers who seem to think that Islam is a monolithic belief system.  This myth, maintained by both “Islamophiles” and “Islamophobes,” has overshadowed any nuanced discussion of Islam.

Islam is a diverse religion.  Many Muslims who have immigrated to America and Europe have adopted Western ideals of free speech and religious toleration.  Those in the United States have done particularly well in assimilating these values.[1]  In a democracy, in which the individual is regarded as the basic unit of society, a person is judged not by his ethnic or religious associations, but by his ideas and behavior.

Although nearly half (42%) of the American public, as well as the U.S. government, believe that Islam is no more likely to encourage violence than any other religion,[2] the radical tendencies which exist in Islam are unambiguously present and they continue to fuel terrorism and supremacist ideologies, such as Islamism, on a scale not seen in other modern religions.  This fact, though politically incorrect, has not escaped the notice of Muslims here in the U.S.  According to a 2011 Pew survey, 60% of Muslim Americans are concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S., and 21% feel that there is significant support for extremism in the Muslim community.[3]

Americans and government officials who deny that there is a religious link between Islam and terrorism face a disconnect between their idealism, which seeks the good in all things, and the hard edge of historical reality.  Western liberal optimism places its faith in reason and the essential goodness of mankind.  According to this worldview, Islam is a religion of peace, and, given favorable political and economic opportunities, even terrorists can be persuaded to live in harmony with the rest of the world.

By seeing Islam through this lens, American idealists and their European counterparts are projecting Western democratic values upon the Islamic world in the sincere belief that in the end, reason and human goodness will triumph.[4]  As many of these values, discussed in detail below, are at the core of America’s identity, errors in judgment can have grave consequences for American foreign policy, domestic security, and even our constitution.

New York City Muslim Day Parade: Jihad Flags and 'Allahu Akbar'

via Creeping Sharia and Urban Infidel (with video and many more photos)

Kenyan Religious Leaders: 'Attempt to Sow Seeds of Discord between Christians and Muslims will fail.'

Welcome News: Muslims of good conscience in Kenya offer strong statement condemning Nairobi Westgate Mall jihad massacre conducted against Christians.

But the ominous question remains: Will anyone address how it is that Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all Muslim extremist groups throughout the entire Islamic world base their murderous persecution of Christians and other non-Muslims on the Quran and example of Muhammad?

Agenzia Fides via — 9/25/2013

The attack carried out by the Somali Shabaab against the Westgate Mall in Nairobi has been condemned by religious Kenyan leaders participating in the Inter-Religious Council.

"We, religious leaders, are engaged in a robust dialogue to ensure that these relations are not just maintained but also made stronger. We are convinced beyond doubt that the attempt to sow seeds of discord between Muslims and Christians will fail miserably and that we shall remain united" said Adan Wachu, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Muslims of Kenya.

Bloody Weekend: Trend of Muslim Rage Against ‘Infidels’ Continues

by Raymond Ibrahim — The Blaze — 9/25/2013

Muslim slaughter of non-Muslim “infidels” saw an especially dramatic weekend in the nations of Pakistan and Kenya.  Even so, these are simply the latest in a long list of jihadi attacks on the Christians of both nations.

Slaughtered in Pakistan for being Christian (“infidel”) church-goers.

Last Sunday, September 22, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Islamic suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church compound right after Sunday mass and blew themselves up in the midst of some 550 congregants, killing, according to the latest count, nearly 90 worshippers, including many Sunday school children, women, and choir members, and injuring at least another 120.   The now destroyed Protestant church was built in Peshawar some 130 years ago.  The Taliban claimed the attacks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

40 Nuns, Orphans Trapped in Saint Takla Monastery in Syria’s Maloula

OCP Media — 9/25/2013

Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East for Greek Orthodox announced Tuesday that about 40 nuns and orphans are trapped inside the monastery of Saint Takla center of Maloula town in rural Damascus due to the ongoing clashes between the Syrian army and opposition fighters.

Mark your calendars for Sunday, October 13

I'm humbled to be asked to join Kevin Allen for his internet call-in talk radio show, Ancient Faith Today, on Sunday, October 13, 8:00pm to 9:30pm Eastern. Please tune in, call-in, and/or join the chatroom during the show!

October 13: The “Conspiracy of Silence” The Rise of Global Christian Persecution and Why the World Isn't Responding

Host Kevin Allen talks with Faith McDonnell and Ralph H. Sidway about the rising tide of Christian intolerance and genocide—the intentional killing of people for their Christian faith—and why global Christophobia is rarely covered by Western media or addressed by the United Nations. Faith McDonnell is the Director of Religious Liberty Programs at the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Ms. McDonnell, a specialist on the persecuted church, is the author of the book Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda's Children.  Her blog is titled Juicy Ecumenism. Ralph H. Sidway is the author of Facing Islam and the blog of the same name.


Ancient Faith Today streams live at 5:00 pm Pacific, 7:00 pm Central, and 8:00 pm Eastern every other Sunday based on the program schedule shown on this page. To listen, go to our homepage and click on the Talk Station pop-up player.

What is Ancient Faith Today?

Ancient Faith Today is what Ancient Faith Radio and Orthodox Internet radio have been missing -- a live inter-active conversation program. Now that void has been filled! Ancient Faith Today streams live, with call-ins from around the world, twice a month on Sunday nights at 5:00pm Pacific/7:00pm Central/8:00pm Eastern on Ancient Faith Radio Talk.

Topics cover all of life through the lens of Scripture and the teaching and canonical tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church. Ancient Faith Today’s host Kevin Allen talks with knowledgeable guests about social issues, global events, politics as they affect matters of faith (from a non-partisan perspective), war and peace, aging, death and life, church affairs, inter-faith affairs, current events, journeys to faith and Orthodoxy, theology and apologetics, cults, atheism, the paranormal, the New Age movement and Eastern religion. More than just “talk radio”, Ancient Faith Today is Orthodox Christianity’s platform for illumining and informative conversation about subjects that matter, with people who care.

There is no other live (streaming) call-in show with an Orthodox Christian perspective Internet radio!

Kevin Allen was the host of Ancient Faith Radio’s popular award-winning program “The Illumined Heart.” Kevin draws upon his unique faith background to host this fascinating, engaging and spiritually constructive program with guests you should know!

Saudi Arabia: Religious Police Confiscate Crosses from Christians

Muhammad said, "I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim" (Hadith from Sahih Muslim 19.4366).

For readers of this blog and students of Islam, this is more confirmation, not anything new. See these posts:

Saudi Arabia: religious police confiscate crosses from Christians — 9/25/2013

(ABHA, SAUDI ARABIA) Officers of the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (the religious police) made a raid in the town of Abha in the south of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The result of these events was the confiscation of crosses from representatives of one Asian diaspora—to prevent the performing of Christian prayers, called "contradictory to Islam" by the government employees, reports Linga.

According to the Tavasul electronic newspaper's materials, the committee got the information on the "violation of the law" from the municipality, which had informed it of the preparations made by one of the numerous Asian diasporas for to the perform rites and sacraments that they hold approximately every half year, in the presence of a relatively great number of men, women and children. The hostel at a town filling station was chosen as the venue for holding the prayer service.

Open season on Christians in Syria and across the Muslim world

by Matthew Fisher — National Post — 9/22/2013
h/t Fr A

Pakistani Christians gather in a protest in Islamabad on September 22, 2013,
against the killing of their community members in two suicide bomb
attacks on a Church in Peshawar.

It seemed this weekend as if it was open season on Christians across the Muslim world.

Seventy-eight Christians were slaughtered Sunday by twin suicide bombers at a church where I have attended services several times myself in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Less than 24 hours earlier a gang of Islamic militants from Somalia murdered at least 68 workers and shoppers, including two Canadians, at a mall in Kenya, allegedly shouting for Muslims to get out of the way so they could specifically kill Christians.

Coptic Christians in Egypt also have been targeted recently by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Christians in large numbers have left their ancient enclaves in Iraq and the West Bank after churches there were blown up or Christians were threatened.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

AXIOS to Robert Spencer! (Video Interview)

Robert Spencer is the force behind Jihad Watch, which reports daily on Islam's war against the world, and is the author of twelve books on Islam, a couple of which have made it to the NY Times Bestseller List.

I intend to do a full review this Autumn of Mr. Spencer's latest work, Not Peace But a Sword, a very thorough theological cross-study showing why Islam is incompatible with Christianity. I am deep into the text, and can give it my highest recommendation. In fact, in many ways, I consider it to be the Roman Catholic counterpart to my book, Facing Islam, in that it really delves into the differences in the respective scriptures and traditions. Also like my book, Not Peace But A Sword warns against uncritical inter-religious dialogue of Christians with Muslims, by analyzing Islam's polar opposite worldview, and how that impacts Islam's understanding of key aspects of any religious dialogue, including notions of peace, tolerance, truth, the purpose and destiny of man, the 'Faith of Abraham', etc.

In the below interview, Robert Spencer does his weekly 'Jihad Watch' segment on Michael Coren's The Arena (SunTV, Canada) actually in studio, as he was recently in Canada for a speaking tour. This is a rather personal segment, in which Mr. Spencer shares about how his grandparents were exiled from the former Ottoman Empire during the deadly dangerous era of the Armenian/Orthodox Genocide. One cannot but ponder God's providence in sparing Mr. Spencer's ancestors from the wave of Islamic violence which took the lives of 4 million Christians in his native land.

We all owe Robert Spencer a great debt of gratitude for his diligence and fearlessness in writing and speaking about Islam. His outstanding book, The Truth About Muhammad, was one of the first texts I read on the subject, and like all his books, is very sober and informative, with copious footnotes and bibliography.

So, as the title of this post says, AXIOS to Robert Spencer, and may God keep him safe and grant him many years!
(For you non-Orthodox, "Axios" means, "He is worthy," and is typically shouted by the faithful at the ordination of a priest in affirmation.)

Muslim Persecution of Christians: July, 2013

Gatestone Institute, compiled by Raymond Ibrahim — 9/19/2013

On July 4th, the day after the Egyptian military liberated the nation of Muslim Brotherhood rule, Christian Copts were immediately scapegoated and targeted.  All Islamist leaders—from Brotherhood supreme leader Muhammad Badi, to Egyptian-born al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, to top Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi—made it a point to single out Egypt’s Copts as being especially instrumental in the ousting of former Islamist president Morsi, ushering in a month of pogroms against the nation’s Christian minority.

Among other things in July, unprecedented numbers of Christian churches were attacked, plundered, desecrated, and torched.  According to one Egyptian human rights lawyer, “82 churches, many of which were from the 5th century, were attacked by pro-Morsi supporters in just two days.” Al-Qaeda’s flag was raised above some churches; anti-Christian graffiti littered the sides of other churches and Coptic homes.  Due to extreme anti-Christian sentiment, many churches ceased holding worship services until recently.  Dozens of Coptic homes and businesses were also attacked, looted, and torched.

In the Sinai, a young Coptic priest was shot dead in front of his church, while the body of Magdy Lam‘i Habib, a Copt, was found mutilated and beheaded.  Four other Christians were slaughtered by Muslims in Luxor province.  Whole towns and villages have been emptied of Copts, including more than 100 Christian families from El Arish in the terror-infested Sinai.

Due to the many death threats to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, for a time he left the papal residence at St. Mark Cathedral—which was earlier savagely attacked, when Morsi was still president—and temporarily ceased holding services.

The rest of July’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not according to severity:

In the Name of Islam

"Cameron and every Western leader can insist that there is nothing in Islam that justifies violence, but Muslims know better. A quarter of British Muslims were willing to endorse the Al Qaeda 7/7 bombings in the UK where such opinions are all but illegal. What then is the true number?

"The true number is much too frightening. That’s why denial is easier."

In the Name of Islam
by Daniel Greenfield — FrontPageMag — 9/23/2013

Denial is the first stage of coming to terms with the unthinkable.

In Westgate, a Kenyan mall oriented toward expats, terrorists separated Muslims from non-Muslims before killing them. The Muslims were allowed to go free if they could recite a Muslim prayer.

During the attack, Al Shabaab’s Arabic Twitter account quoted the Koran, “Plant firmly our feet and give us victory over (Al-Kafireen) the disbelieving people.”  (Koran 2:250). The Kuffar, the non-Muslims of Westgate, included small children.

“I don’t understand why you would shoot a five-year-old child,” one of the survivors said. But the five-year-old was not a Muslim.

Moments like these put the Clash of Civilizations into bloody context. This isn’t abstract politics. It’s not about economics, the environment or foreign policy. It’s about a worldview in which a five-year-old who can’t recite the Islamic confession of faith deserves to be killed.

The crime is not being a Muslim.

The West Trying to Understand Russian and Georgian Reactions

See also my article: Resurgent Russia, The Hope of Persecuted Christians.

MYSTAGOGY — 9/21/2013

As tolerance towards Gay Marriage increases in the West, media sources are trying to understand the reactions of Russia and Georgia in the East to these same issues, as well as other issues of tolerance. The secularized mentality of the West, which more often values greater tolerance to minorities over the majority, is in clear opposition to the traditional mentality of the East, which more often values a certain tolerance to minorities, but not at the expense of the values of the majority. In the past 25 years this has been dramatically altering in Russia and Georgia, with the fall of communism and the rise of Orthodox Christianity. Russia and Georgia are more and more defining themselves historically from before the time of the Russian Revolution and Muslim Invasion, after decades and even centuries of repressing their identities as Orthodox Christians. Without this historical context, it is impossible for the West to understand Russian and Georgian identities and reactions against the secular West.

Below are two examples of how the West tries [and fails] to understand and evaluate Russia and Georgia outside of this historical context:

Genocidal Slaughter of Christians Continues in Syria

Christians in Aleppo — including women and children — taken from their homes at gunpoint, rounded up, and slaughtered en masse. Lebanon reportedly the next target for Al Qaeda and Al Nusra.


(ALEPPO) The Ad-Diyar newspaper in Aleppo reports that members of Al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra armed groups have attacked homes of the Christian population in different blocks of the city.

Having encircled the houses, the militants took out their residents, including women and children, and having tied their hands, led them to the recreational park near Aleppo. There, following several bursts of submachine gun fire, the extremists slaughtered all captive Christians.

A report of the Al-Hadas agency, also citing the material from Ad-Diyar, adds that the Al-Qaeda fighters have forbidden their supporters to film the slaughter, telling them to burn the corpses and to bury the remains in a common grave.

In the article mentioned above, the editorial staff of the newspaper considers this course of events to be fatal for Syria: thus, forcible eviction of Christians from the country is being carried out under the auspices of so called "State of Ahl us-Sunnah in Iraq and Syria".

It is supposed that the next target will be Lebanon, reports Linga.

Linga also specifies that they have not been able to find reports about this tragedy in other sources; however, reports about this have appeared in many newspapers of the region, such as Alhadathnews and ABNA.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Saint John the New Martyr of Vrachori, formerly a Muslim (+ 1814)

MYSTAGOGY — 9/23/2013

John was born in 1785 in a place called Konitsa, which was populated by Albanian Muslims at the time. He was a Muslim of Muslim parents. His father was both a dervish and a sheik. When John was twenty years old, he also joined the order of dervishes, as there were a few tekes (Muslim dervish monasteries) in Konitsa. He moved to the city of Ioannina, Epeiros, but later he moved to the town of Vrachori in the province of Aitolia, whose pasha was Haznatar Isufaravos, a friend of his father. So the pasha made John his private dervish, where he arose high in rank and fought in the battle of the Turks against the Russians in the area of the Ionian Islands.

During the battle John came into contact with many Orthodox Christians and decided to become an Orthodox Christian himself. He removed his dervish attire and sought baptism, yet no one would baptize him out of fear. The pasha eventually was transferred, but John did not go with him.

Because he was unable to be baptized in Vrachori, John went to the island of Ithaka where he was able to be baptized and at that time was given the name John. Returning to the mainland he married an Orthodox woman and became a rural guard, avoiding Muslims as much as possible.

His father eventually heard of his son's apostasy and sent two dervishes to persuade John to return to his Muslim faith. The messengers failed due to the steadfast faith of John. However news spread in the village that John was a former Muslim and dervish, causing the local Muslims to bring charges against him.

Soldiers were eventually sent by the muselimi of Vrachori to arrest John. When he was asked to identify himself, John replied: "I am an Orthodox Christian and my name is John."

The muselimi replied: "Aren't you the young dervish, the son of the skeik of Konitsa?"

"Yes I am," answered John, "but now I am an Orthodox Christian and I will die as an Orthodox Christian."

Muslim Persecution of Christians: June 2013

Gatestone Institute, compiled by Raymond Ibrahim — 9/11/2013

The degradation of Christian women living in the Islamic world continued in the month of June.  In Syria, after the al-Qaeda linked rebel group conquered Qusair, a city of the governate of Homs, 15-year-old Mariam was kidnapped, repeatedly gang raped according to a fatwa legitimizing the rape of non-Sunni women by any Muslim waging jihad against Syria’s government, and then executed.

According to Agenzia Fides, “The commander of the battalion ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’ in Qusair took Mariam, married and raped her. Then he repudiated her. The next day the young woman was forced to marry another Islamic militant. He also raped her and then repudiated her. The same trend was repeated for 15 days, and Mariam was raped by 15 different men. This psychologically destabilized her and made her insane. Mariam became mentally unstable and was eventually killed.”

In Pakistan, Muslim men stormed the home of three Christian women, beat them, stripped them naked and tortured them, and then paraded them in the nude in a village in the Kasur district. Days earlier, it seems the goats of the Christian family had accidentally trespassed onto Muslim land; Muslims sought to make an example of the Christian family, who, as third-class citizens, must know their place at all times.

The rest of June’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not according to severity:

Russian Muslim clerics warn of unrest over ban of translation of Koran

Where have we heard threats of violence and unrest from Muslims before, and seen those threats acted out? Why, everywhere Islam has spread!

It is unlikely that this would lead to the complete banning of all translations of the Koran in Russia, but if the ban on this one translation holds, it would serve notice that Orthodox Christian Russia will not tolerate the intolerance innate to Islam. Indeed, later on in this article, we learn that a hadith collection of the sayings of Muhammad has already been banned in Russia as well.

As philosopher Karl Popper wisely said:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them.

Russian Muslim clerics warn of unrest over ban of translation of Koran
By Alissa de Carbonnel — Reuters — 9/20/2013

MOSCOW | (Reuters) - Russia's senior Islamic clerics warned the country's leaders on Friday unrest could erupt in Muslim communities in Russia and beyond if a court decision ordering the destruction of a interpretive translation of Koran is not overturned.

Tuesday's ruling by a court in Novorossiysk, a city in southern Russia, ordered the widely read text outlawed under a Russian anti-extremism law that rights activists say has been abused by local officials out of prejudice or to persecute groups frowned upon by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.

Rights campaigners said that the decision, which will apply nationwide unless it is overturned on appeal, comes dangerously close to banning the Koran itself.

Blaming the Crusades for Jihad

by Ryan Mauro — FrontPage Magazine — 9/23/2013

The cultural relativists on the Left and apologists for radical Islam like to blame the Crusades for almost everything. The Muslim extremists are only responding to the deeds of Christian extremists, the argument goes. In his new book, Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies, former Muslim Ibn Warraq takes on this misleading theme intended to blame the West for the Muslim world's troubles.

The claim that the Crusades are the starting point of Islamic jihad is basically the political application of, "For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction." It equates the Christian beliefs driving the Crusades with the Islamic beliefs driving jihad.

Ibn Warraq's new book tackles this misconception. Islamic atrocities were not provoked by the Crusaders' own reprehensible acts, but preceded them. Islamic jihad was not triggered by the Crusades; it preceded them.

In fact, as explained by Warraq and in books like The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and What's So Great About Christianity, the Christian world was reduced to about one-third of what it was by the sword of jihad. The Crusades were launched with the objective of, without any exaggeration, saving Europe and Western civilization from Sharia.

My personal experience in school is that the opposite was taught. The Crusades were framed as offensive and the jihads as defensive. The Crusaders were depicted as barbarians, particularly to Jews. I cannot recall hearing about a single Islamic atrocity before or during these wars.

This is a common phenomenon, Warraq explains, and it's part of an overall trend when it comes to education about the history of Islam.

Muslim Brotherhood banned in Egypt, and more Quick Headlines (with links)

I don't pretend to run a news service, but do try to keep abreast of related developments in the Islamic world, here n the US, and in Russia and other Orthodox countries. Here are some important headlines this Monday morning:

Fox News — 9/23/2013 — 9/23/2013

Muslims from Illinois, Maine, and Arizona were listed by al Shabaab along with Muslims from Minnesota & Kansas City as being among the Islamic killers that perpetrated the Kenyan Mall Massacre.
Creeping Sharia — 9/23/2013

Death toll climbs to 81... — 9/23/2013

People gather next to victims of a suicide attack on a church in Peshawar.
Photo: Mohammad Sajjad

CAIR–the largest Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas front group in America–Is Running a Money Laundering Operation

You may have already seen the new TIME cover story on 'Islamophobia', which deals with the report published by CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations). For a critical review of the report and the TIME story, go here.

This newest revelation of money laundering is potentially devastating to CAIR. Just as Al Capone was taken down by tax laws, so criminal prosecution of CAIR could severely cripple and possibly shut down the most influential Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas front group in the US.

CAIR–the largest Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas front group in America–Is Running a Money Laundering Operation
AFLC — 9/20/2013

The largest Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas front group in America is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). After three years of litigation in federal court in Washington, D.C., AFLC has uncovered facts demonstrating that CAIR has been running a global criminal money laundering operation out of the nation’s capitol.

The money laundering scheme was discovered in the course of legal discovery in unrelated federal litigation arising out of allegations by five of CAIR’s former clients that CAIR defrauded them by failing to provide the legal services they had been promised. (See here for the latest update in that case).

While CAIR bills itself as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, it has been named by the U.S. Department of Justice in federal litigation as a Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas front group and an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation criminal trial, the nation’s largest terrorism finance prosecution to date, resulting in convictions in 2008 for all five leaders of the terrorist financing ring operating as the Holy Land Foundation Muslim charity. Prison sentences ranged from 20 years to 65 years.

As brought out in the Holy Land Foundation criminal trial, CAIR founders Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad were participants in the conspiracy, although not formally charged. These two men formed CAIR in 1994 in an effort to create a front organization to further the Muslim Brotherhood goals in this country. But, like many criminal fronts, CAIR itself turns out to be a criminal organization.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

VIDEO: Islam's Global War on Christianity

Liberty-GB via Creeping Sharia — 9/22/2013
Watch, read and share.

Islamic Extremists Bomb Church in Pakistan, Attack Shopping Mall in Kenya

— Scale of attack in Peshawar unprecedented.
— Non-Muslims targeted in Nairobi.

Morning Star News — 9/22/2013

Woman injured in attack on church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
(Morning Star News)
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists today killed at least 78 people in an unprecedented church bombing in Pakistan, a day after Islamic militants in Kenya targeted non-Muslims in a mall attack that killed at least 60.

Believed to be the deadliest assault on Christians in Pakistan, two suicide bombers struck All Saints Church in Peshawar, capital of Pakistani Taliban-infested Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan, after the Church of God congregation’s Sunday worship. A large number of women and children were among the dead.
Another 145 people were injured in the blasts, authorities said.

S.P. Asghar, arch deacon at All Saints Church, told Morning Star News by phone that around 300 members of the congregation were having lunch in the church compound when suicide bombers wearing police uniforms struck. Nearly 60 percent of the congregation had left the church premises after worship ended at 11 a.m., he said.

“Around 11:15 a.m., the two bombers sneaked into the compound and blew themselves up,” Asghar said. “I cannot explain the situation here in words … Our compound is full of bodies and injured people, and ambulances are making rounds to take them to the hospital.”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sudanese Christian Woman Faces Ordeal as Convert from Islam

Islamic apostasy laws in action. Read and share this harrowing story of a brave Christian confessor from Sudan, whose enemies are "those of her own household."

Sudanese Woman Faces Ordeal as Convert from Islam
Long before current crackdown in Sudan, Muslim society punished ‘apostates.’
Morning Star News — 9/20/2013

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – After her family in Khartoum, Sudan nearly buried her alive for leaving Islam and authorities imprisoned her for six months, a Sudanese Christian thought she might find refuge in Ethiopia.

She had fled to Ethiopia in 2010, five years after putting her faith in Christ. By the following year, she found herself face-to-face with hostile Sudanese officials.

“Some security personnel from the Sudan Embassy in Addis Ababa informed me that I must leave Ethiopia because I was an infidel,” the 35-year-old woman, whose name is withheld for security reasons, told Morning Star News.

Now in South Sudan, which split from Sudan on July 9, 2011, she still lives in hiding. Sudanese Muslims in South Sudan, she says, are monitoring her movements.

She had come to faith when a Christian woman told her about the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, and soon she began attending church. When her family learned of her conversion, she said, they locked her in a dark room for six months and arranged visits from an Islamic sheikh who struck her 10 times each day.

“After six months, I was released and was very frustrated and went into hiding, but my family discovered where I was hiding in Khartoum and reported to the police that I had left Islam,” she said.

Her family learned of her hiding place, found and beat her, and threw her from a second floor landing.

“I was bleeding and my ribs were broken,” she said, tears streaming from her eyes.

Family members threatened to charge her with apostasy unless she repented and returned to Islam, telling her, “You are an infidel, you are no longer a good Muslim,” she said. Apostasy is punishable by death in Sudan, which upholds sharia (Islamic law) as a source of legislation, according to the U.S. Department of State.

APOCALYPTIC: 'The world is watching the effective extinction of Christianity from its birthplace.'

This is a must-read, must-share report on a landmark briefing in London which addresses "the worst persecution in 700 years against the oldest, largest remaining Christian minorities in the Middle East," and the media's "utter trivial" and "anemic" coverage.

Christianity becoming extinct in its birthplace, says Historian Tom Holland
Lapido Media via — 9/20/2013

‘Medieval scale of horror...’ 
—Historian Tom Holland. 

MIDDLE EAST historian Tom Holland told a briefing in London last night that the world is watching the effective extinction of Christianity from its birthplace.

In an apocalyptic appraisal of the worsening political situation in the region, a panel of experts provided a mass of evidence and statistics for the end of the region’s nation states under the onslaught of militant Islam.

‘In terms of the sheer scale of the hatreds and sectarian rivalries, we are witnessing something on the scale of horror of the European Thirty Years War,’ said Holland.

‘It is the climax of a process grinding its way through the twentieth century – the effective extinction of Christianity from its birthplace.’

The event titled ‘Reporting the Middle East: Why the truth is getting lost’ at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall, sought answers to the ‘anaemic’ coverage of attacks on Egypt’s Christians on 14 August.

‘Horrific levels of violence’ 
—Nina Shea

Pre-planned destruction of scores of ancient churches, monasteries, schools, orphanages and businesses had gone unreported for days across the West, Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute Religious Freedom Centre in Washington said.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Time For Some Serious Questions, revisited - Part 2

My first 'revisited post' qualified as a standalone article. This is more of an attempt to reply to a flurry of concerns raised by a commenter over at Monomakhos. There are some great questions and points raised here, which provide several "teachable moments", so I decided to post the commenter's points, interspersed with my replies. Many of my replies are derived primarily from my book, FACING ISLAM, which is a well-rounded resource for Christians confronting the religion of Muhammad.


Commenter: Do you not realize that “Allah” is not a proper name? it is the Arabic word for “God” and it should be used, lest the Muslim teaching be distorted unfairly. Arabic-speaking Christians use the word “Allah” when they pray in Arabic, just as not Arabs use God. 

My Reply: 
I would respectfully suggest that there is a considerable amount of complex etymology surrounding the word/name Allah and its adoption by Muhammad during the formation of his religion of Islam, which should urge us to caution in trying to generalize about its proper use. 
There exist strong reasons to consider that Allah was but one of the many pagan deities worshipped by the Arab polytheists before Muhammad elevated him to pre-eminent status. The frequency of the crescent moon in archeological digs from the pre-Islamic pagan epoch, the Sabean lunar calendar so prevalent in the Arabian peninsula, and the apparent correspondence to the Babylonian deity Baal are indicators, as is Allah’s most used title in the Koran, Ar-Rahman (the Merciful), who was known in South Arabia as a moon deity. Perhaps due to the influence of Christianity and Judaism, there can be traced a development towards a proto or pseudo-monotheism in the Arabian peninsula, with the moon god’s domination earning him the appellation “Lord of Heaven and Earth.” This trend throughout the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., especially in the north around Mecca, and significantly in Muhammad’s own Quraysh tribe, paved the way for the “Prophet.” The Quraysh had come to be known even before Muhammad’s rise as the “People of Allah.” Thus Serge Trifkovic concludes, “the word [Allah] was well familiar to Muhammad’s contemporaries, denoting a pagan deity that his tribe revered as superior to all others, rather than the Supreme Being, creator and sustainer of the universe. He did not need to invent a completely new word but eventually redefined the uniquely Arab Allah on his own terms” (Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet, pp 19-24). 

Russian Patriarch to Obama: Syria’s Christians Nearing ‘Extermination’

by Raymond Ibrahim — PJ Media

While many were fixated on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent letter to the American people, another letter from another Russian leader—this one directly addressed to the U.S. president—was missed.

On September 10, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill issued a letter addressed to “His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama, President, United States.”  Whether one wishes to interpret this communique as a product of politics or sincerity, it accurately highlights the plight of Syria’s Christians, especially in the broader context of a larger civilizational struggle.

I repost major portions of the letter below, interspersed with my observations for added context:

Your Excellency, Dear Mr. President, 
The tragic events in Syria have raised anxiety and caused pain in the Russian Orthodox Church. We receive information about the situation there not from the news reports but from living evidence coming to us from religious figures, ordinary believers and our compatriots living in that country.

This is an important point: the “news reports” evaluated by the Russian church are from “living evidence coming to us from religious figures, ordinary believers and our compatriots living in that country.”  The fact is, outside of America’s biased “mainstream media,” the evidence concerning what is going on in Syria—namely, that Islamic militants are committing human rights atrocities, including possibly the chemical attacks in question—is overwhelming.  Countless eyewitness testimonies, videos, pictures—all those things that rarely make it to the U.S. MSM—make this abundantly clear.

Ask the average Syrian about the current turmoil engulfing their land—and I have, as have numerous Russian Orthodox representatives in communion with Syria’s ancient Christian community, as noted by Kirill—and few have any illusions as to its nature: an authoritarian, but secular, Assad vs. radical Islamists and jihadis.

Naturally most Syrians choose Assad.

Only in America, and to a lesser extent Western Europe, is the myth of “freedom fighters” trying to “liberate” Syria still being peddled.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Time For Some Serious Questions, revisited

Back in May, following the broad daylight murder and beheading of British soldier Lee Rigby by a Qur'an-quoting Muslim on the streets of London, I posted an article, Message to Muslims: Time for some Serious Questions, which you may wish to re-read (or read for the first time), as the post below refers to it.

This article was recently picked up by Monomakhos blog, and lots of comments were posted. Many of the comments which stayed on topic tended to miss the point I was trying to make. Some felt I was tarring all Muslims with the broad brush of communal guilt for the violent acts of a few of their co-religionists. Others trotted out staples of the "religious equivalency fallacy" such as the atrocities committed by Christians against Muslims during the Crusades, and so on.

These are all very involved issues, and I eventually composed a fairly thorough follow-up comment, expanding my main point. Thankfully, it seems this was widely read at Monomakhos, and received positive comments and "likes."  I am posting it below, as it is good to revisit these issues from time to time.

Patriarch Kirill participates in celebrations on the occasion of consecration of the Armenian church complex in Moscow

Further nurturing of conciliar bonds among the traditional Christian communities, led by the Moscow Patriarchate.

PRAVMIR — 9/19/2013

On 17 September 2013, a solemn ceremony of the consecration of the church complex belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church took place in Moscow, in Trifonovskaya Street.

Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos Karekin II of All Armenians officiated at the consecration. Attending the celebration was His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
At the main gate of the church complex, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill was met by Bishop Ezras (Nersisyan), head of the New Nakhichevan and Russia diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Among the honorary guests of the ceremony were Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, hierarchs of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Russian and Armenian statesmen, representatives of Christian confessions and the Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist communities.

His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II addressed the participants and numerous guests of the celebrations. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill also greeted all those present, saying in particular:

A Mysterious Mass Conversion From Islam to Christianity in Georgia

MYSTAGOGY — 9/18/2013

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Batumi
Ian Hamel — September 15, 2013

In 1991, 75% of Adjarians in Georgia were Muslims. Today, they have become 75% Orthodox Christians. How can these conversions be explained, which is apparently unique in the world?

Syrian Orthodox Christian: 'I lived in Romania for 7 years and I tell you honestly that I do not think that the Romanian Christians have more freedom than the Syrian Christians'

"We saw what the Americans did when they invaded Iraq. The solution is that the West stops supporting the terrorists and that Turkey keeps its borders closed. Let our country live, let my people live. Syria throughout time taught the world the Power of Civilization, not the Civilization of Power. It is only this that I want to tell to the whole world."

Drum european via Pravoslavie — 9/16/2013

Photo: Khalil Ashawi | Reuters
From the Editor Romanian magazine: He is Syrian, he is Orthodox Christian and he just finished his studies in Romania. S.M. lives through the war in Syria as an eye-witness and views it completely different than it is presented to us in Romania. (The Syrian asked me not to give his name; I guarantee that the following interview is an honest one, that S.M. is not forced by the Syrian authorities to talk nice about Bashar Al Assad).

How does a Christian living in Syria view the current situation from Syria?

I am a Syrian who studied in Romania. I just finished my studies and I returned to my country. The situation is very sad, because few years ago Syria was one of the best countries in the world (in 2009 it was the fourth most peaceful in the world and in 2010 it was the eighth tourist attraction in the world) and now the situation has changed and in 2012 Syria was among the ten most miserable countries in the world. The sad and very rapid change was a shock not only for me but for all Syrians throughout the world. Personally in these past couple of years I was continuously worried for my family as they were in danger and I, being in Romania, couldn’t do anything to help them. Now that I returned I understood what kind of danger the Syrians faced these two years and a half and, unfortunately, the situation is much worse than I imagined.

What I will tell may come as a shock to you, who are miss-informed by the Western mass-media. Yet, I have to tell you the truth. From the point of view of a Syrian Christian I can tell you that what is now happening in Syria is not a revolution. Why would we need a revolution when we go to schools, to universities, to hospitals for free? The prices used to be very low. We cannot say that life in Syria was perfect, but did that require a revolution? Not at all! The corruption in my country exists in any other country. At the same time the rights we had are beyond any comparison to the other Muslim countries. A Syrian Christian lived very well; he had all the rights a Muslim had. I never felt that I was somehow obstructed or that I needed more freedom. As a Christian I had all the rights a Muslim had except that of becoming president. We even had more rights compared to some Christian or secularized countries. For instance, the clergy can wear their vestments in the public areas; they are even treated with respect, whereas in Turkey only the Ecumenical Patriarch can wear his cassock in the public areas. In Syria the churches are exempted from paying the utilities, a thing that doesn’t happen in Romania etc.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CHRISTIANS WILL BE MASSACRED: If Syrian army leaves Aleppo, faithful will be killed, Chaldean Catholic leader warns

Catholic Online — 9/10/2013

Chaldean Catholic Church in Syria in complete unity with the Holy See, Pope Francis

The United States ostensibly backs the rebel factions in war-torn Syria, but as one Christian leader that has ministered to the faithful in the Middle East warns, government forces are the ones protecting the Christian minority there. "The Syrian Army is protecting the Christian community [in Aleppo]," Reverend Raymond Moussalli says. "But if [the Army] leaves, they will be massacred."

Maaloula refugees celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross, pray for their martyrs

AsiaNews via Pravmir — 9/17/2013

“The small town conquered by the rebels is now deserted,” sources told AsiaNews. In the capital, refugees organised celebrations-Mass, Eucharistic adoration and vigils-in lieu of traditional processions and bonfires. “The event was dedicated to our martyrs and the suffering of Syria,” a Maaloula Christian said.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Christian refugees from Maaloula and Damascene Christians celebrated the feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross on Saturday with a Mass, prayer vigils for the martyrs and small celebrations outside churches across the capital.

The celebration dates back to 320 AD, when Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, sent officials to Jerusalem to find the Holy relic of the cross on Mount Golgotha, which they did on 14 September.

In order to inform the emperor and his mother, who lived in Constantinople, bonfires were lit on every peak located along the 1,170 km that separate the two cities.

For centuries, Maaloula was the centre of this celebration, with pilgrims and faithful gathering each year from around Syria and the world.

“Preparations [this year] have been very sober,” sources (anonymous for security reasons) told AsiaNews.

“This is a far cry from peace time when the whole town of Maaloula, now in the hands of Islamic extremists, was dressed up to the nines with bonfires burning until dawn.”

“This year the festival was dedicated to our martyrs, the suffering of Syria.”