Tuesday, March 31, 2015

For ISIS, ‘All Roads lead to Rome’

The Islamic State caliphate has its sights set on large Christian targets, aims to ‘break the crosses’, both literally and metaphorically.

by Ralph H. Sidway

ISIS shows their black flag flying
over the Vatican.
The Islamic State has named many targets, including the “lands of al-Haramein” (two holy places), i.e. Saudi Arabia, and Spain. But its most significant goal seems to be Rome.  

When the Islamic State released its video in February of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians on the coast of Libya, they titled it, “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” After the slaughter, the speaker says, “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission…”

Italian officials immediately reacted, warning “ISIS is at the door.” The Washington Post reports that, 
Our Italian allies... are responding with the correct initial steps, including placing portions of both their military and the capable Carabinieri paramilitary forces on higher alert, adding more nautical patrols between Libya and their southern islands; sharing intelligence throughout NATO and European Union/Interpol channels; and publicizing these measures to appear a more hardened target.

The Libyan coastal area which the Islamic State used for its bloody “Message” is only 109 miles from the island of Lampedusa, and just 300 miles from Sicily; from there it’s just a short jump to mainland Italy. But it may not take an actual invasion force from the Islamic State in Libya to launch a terrorist attack. The enemy may already be taking up positions inside Italy.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mob of Muslims Violently Attack Church in Protest Against Memorial for Egyptian Martyrs

This Muslim mob has merely multiplied the glory of the 21 Holy New Coptic Martyrs of Libya, while at the same time proving the demonic core of Islam. 

At least six Coptic Christians wounded as armed mob storms church in Al-Our village, home to 13 of the martyrs executed by ISIS in Libya.

by Todd Daniels, ICC
with ICC's Egypt Representative

03/29/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As the country prepared to mark the fortieth day since the release of a video showing the execution of 21 Christians by ISIS jihadists in Libya, the home village of 13 of the 20 Egyptian martyrs was again the focus of Islamic extremists.

At least six cars from a surrounding village carrying more than twenty armed men arrived in Al-Our village as dark started to settle over the village of 5,000. These men joined joined a crowd of more than 100 locals from Al-Our and made their way to Virgin Mary Church, currently the only church for the towns nearly 2,500 Christians.

“At 8 pm, a group of armed Muslim young men in six or seven cars from nearby villages stormed our village. Many Muslim fanatic young men joined those who came from the other nearby villages and attacked the church," Milad Nageh, of Al-Our told International Christian Concern (ICC).

“They shot guns at the church and pelted the church with stones and blocks,” Milad said. “They smashed the sign of the church, destroying the ground of the church yard and breaking the windows of the service buildings of the church. They also burned a car that was parked in the front of the church.”

It was not only those who came from the other villages, but many of the Muslims from Al-Our were involved as well. “The Muslims whose homes surrounded the church were throwing stones at the church from the roofs of their homes,” Milad said.

New Martyr Helen the Accountant (†March 15, 2013)

MYSTAGOGY , March 17, 2015

John Sanidopoulos at MYSTAGOGY blog has translated to English from the original Greek an amazing account of a young Russian woman, Helen Machankova, raised in an atheist home in Siberia, who moved to Asia Minor to find work among the Russian emigré community there. She eventually met a man and fell in love. He was a Muslim; they married in a mosque.

Her conscience was wounded when her husband expressed how glad he was that Muslims were killing Christians in Syria, and she began to despise him for his hatred of the innocent Christians. He became violent and abused her. Helen left her husband and went to live with her friend Anna, whom she knew from the Russian Church.

Her heart was softened and warmed by the love shown her by her Russian Orthodox friends, and she was led to Christ by their kindness. Helen attended frequently the Divine Liturgy, and asked her friends to teach her how to pray, and about what happens during the Liturgy.

Helen's faith continued to deepen. She began wearing a pendant her family had given her with an icon of St Seraphim of Sarov. When she happened to encounter her husband in the town, he saw the pendant and asked her if she had changed her religion. She did not deny, but answered yes, and bravely confessed Christ. He began to curse at her, as he had considered her to be a Muslim, since they had married in the mosque.

Raymond Ibrahim: Christians on way to Extinction in Mideast (VIDEO)

On March 26, Raymond Ibrahim appeared on NewsMax TV’s “America’s Forum with JD Hayworth” via Skype. The topic of discussion was the very real threat of Christian extinction in the Middle East.

Note: There are two segments sequenced together in this nine-minute video. Be sure to watch past the brief "break" at the midpoint.

The video follows:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What is an Assyrian Christian?

Here is a very helpful summary of the history of the Assyrian Christian community. Additional suggested reading (with links) provided by the author. Thanks to Presvytera D. for sharing.

by Anton C. Vrame, Ph.D.
Director, Department of Religious Education
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

With the horrific stories still coming out of the Middle East about the sufferings of the Christian community there, and the news about Assyrian Christians, some of you might be asking questions about their identity. Again, there is much more to say about this and the history of the Middle East can get complicated (and most of us are not well schooled about the history in that part of the world), but this gives a general picture. 

Christianity was established and was blossoming in Mesopotamia (in general, today’s Iraq, Syria, and southern Turkey) by the mid-second century AD. The Persians conquered the territory, thus separating this Christian community from the other parts of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Under pressure from the Persian rulers and to avoid suspicion about their loyalties, the Church there was forced to separate itself from the Church associated with the Byzantine Empire. The Assyrians became an independent Christian community, with its own head called a Catholicos and Patriarch.

The Assyrian Churches "do recognize the Christology of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, 451)."

As a result Assyrian Christianity developed independently from the rest of the Church. The Assyrians accepted the theology of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius and their teachings about Christ. The Assyrians were not present for the Third Ecumenical Council (at Ephesus) that condemned Nestorianism. After the Council many followers of Nestorius were expelled from the Byzantine Empire and were sent into Persia. As a result, some people still refer to the Assyrian Church as a “Nestorian Church” although the Church itself asks not to be called this. To this day, the Assyrian Churches still only formally recognize the first two Ecumenical Councils but through dialogue with other Christians they have concluded that they do recognize the Christology of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, 451).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Can there have been Two Annunciations?

I originally posted this article in 2013, which contrasts the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with what I term the 'second annunciation', to Muhammad. This is perhaps the most significant 'fact' about Islam, one which we should always keep in the forefront of our considerations.

by Ralph H. Sidway

March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation, when we commemorate the Archangel Gabriel's appearing to the Virgin Mary, as described in the Gospel Reading for the day, Luke 1:24-38:

Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people." 
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 
"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 
"Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." 
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The icon for the Feast depicts this amazing scene, and the modest, reverent interchange between the young maiden and the powerful archangel sent from God. Notice how the Virgin Mary is traditionally depicted with her hand raised just a bit, with a posture which suggests a bit of reserve, a recoiling, for "she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was."

Key Concepts Having Different Meanings for Muslims and Westerners

"All these concepts are defined in ways that promote Islamic Supremacy: freedom is freedom from unbelief; peace is found only in the practice of Islam including the imposition of Sharia law, and more grandly, that on a global scale; tolerance is found in subjugating non-Muslims and equality is only found within the same “band” of the religiously defined social hierarchy."

This is an outstanding article, which peels back the layers of obfuscation, deception (taqiyya) and confusion on the part of Westerners when it comes to Islam. To use another SciFi example, it's as if Captain Kirk and crew have beamed down to a planet where even the famed Star Trek "Universal Translator" can't help us, because key concepts have such radically different meanings for Muslims.

This is a long article, but well worth it for all the insights. Be sure to explore the Footnotes, which expand a great deal further our understanding, and are very helpful. Be sure to also visit the IslamWatch site, as it has many more helpful resources.

Key Concepts Having Different Meanings for Muslims and Westerners
by Jon MC, IslamWatch
Thanks to Bill D.

In this article I shall address four key concepts as generally understood in the free western world and the Islamic world.

My experience when talking to Muslims is that when these (amongst other) words are used we “talk past each other” in that each is trying to convey a different concept to the other. Thus I might just as well have titled the piece “Western concepts misunderstood by Muslims”.

That said, I also have to acknowledge that some Muslim speakers exploit this disconnect in order to “say one thing whilst facing west and another whilst facing east”. In other words they use these “conceptual discrepancies” for the purposes of Taqiya.


The Western viewpoint:  In the West “freedom” is used to describe a whole range of things encompassed in civil, political and individual rights.

Perhaps the most succinct definition of “freedom” is that of Thomas Jefferson: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

He went on to say: “I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often [nothing] but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

Quite explicit in Jefferson's definition is that all people have equal rights. Implicit also is that all (non-tyrannical) laws must apply equally to all people without exception. (This idea was put in British law as the law acting “indifferently” -as in “without difference” - towards all people.) Jefferson also neatly balances the sometimes contradictory ideas of “freedoms” and “rights” which so bedevil much of modern politics.

Freedoms are generally understood to be things that the government won’t stop you doing, whilst rights are things that the government will help protect for you. In other words the government shouldn’t tell you how to live your life, but at the same time it should ensure that everyone’s rights are being equally protected.

The Islamic viewpoint:  The entry on freedom, or “hurriyya”, in the "Encyclopedia of Islam" describes a state of divine enthralment that bears no resemblance to any Western understanding of freedom as predicated on the workings of the individual conscience, nor does it speak of rights. According to the encyclopedia, Islamic freedom is "the recognition of the essential relationship between God the master and His human slaves who are completely dependent on Him."

Ibn Arabi, a Sufi scholar of note, is cited for having defined freedom as “being perfect slavery to Allah”.

To put it another way, Islamic-style "freedom" is freedom from any form of unbelief (“Khufr”) in Islam.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tajik IS Militants Threaten 'Jihad' At Home (Or Even In The Kremlin)

Tajikistan is a former Soviet Republic which gained independence in 1991 with the breakup of the USSR. Predominantly Muslim, it ranks 45th in the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of worst countries for persecution of Christians.

Radio Free Europe (RFE) via BigNewsNetwork
March 23, 2015

Screen grab from the Tajiki IS Militants' YouTube video.
A group of Tajik militants who claim to be fighting with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria has posted a new video in which it threatens to transfer its activities from the Middle East and fight in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, reports.

The 16-minute video was shared on the Russian-language Odnoklassniki social network on March 19 and shows a group of 16 masked militants, most of whom appear to be Tajiks. It is not possible to independently verify the date or the exact location in which the video was shot.

Tajikistan's security authorities have yet to comment on the video, Radio Ozodi reported.

One masked militant said that the video was the militants' final address from Syria and Iraq and that their next video could be filmed "from the mountains of Tavildara in central Tajikistan, or the Tajik capital, Dushanbe -- or even from the Kremlin."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Martyr Fr. Ragheed Ganni and his Three Sub-Deacons (†2007)

"The Chaldean Church immediately mourned for them as martyrs. Benedict XVI prayed for them from Rome. Father Ragheed was one of the most limpid and courageous witnesses of the Christian life in a country among the most afflicted."

My sincere thanks to Curt for sharing with me about Fr. Ragheed's witness for Christ. He was not merely martyred for his faith, but he was a profound struggler and a courageous confessor, battling despair and fear within himself, and strengthening the faith of his flock by choosing to suffer with them and encouraging them with true pastoral love. You can immediately sense his powerful faith in the Risen Christ and the Eucharist. His is a powerful example for us of Christ-like love and self-sacrifice.

See also:

The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the Chaldean Church

They killed him in Mosul, together with three of his subdeacons. In a tormented Iraq, he was a man and a Christian of limpid and courageous faith. Here is a portrait of him, written by someone who knew him well.

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, June 5, 2007 – They killed him on the Sunday after Pentecost, after he had celebrated Mass in his parish church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, in Mosul. 

They killed Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, together with three subdeacons who were with him – Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed. The assailants led Bidawed’s wife away, and struck down the four men in cold blood. Then they placed vehicles loaded with explosives around their corpses, so that no one would dare to approach them. It was late in the evening before the police in Mosul were able to defuse the explosives and collect the bodies. 

The Chaldean Church immediately mourned for them as martyrs. Benedict XVI prayed for them from Rome. Father Ragheed was one of the most limpid and courageous witnesses of the Christian life in a country among the most afflicted. 

He was born in Mosul 35 years ago. After graduating from the local university with an engineering degree in 1993, from 1996 to 2003 he studied theology in Rome at the Angelicum, the Pontifical Saint Thomas Aquinas University, pursuing a license in ecumenical theology. Apart from Arabic, he spoke fluent Italian, French, and English. He was a correspondent for the international agency “Asia News,” of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. 

The day after his martyrdom, “Asia News” published this portrait of him:

"Christ challenges evil with his infinite love, he keeps us united and through the Eucharist he gifts us life, which the terrorists are trying to take away". 

"Without Sunday, without the Eucharist the Christians in Iraq cannot survive": that was how Fr Ragheed spoke of his community’s hope, a community that was used to facing death on a daily basis, that same death that yesterday afternoon faced him, on his way home from saying mass. 

After having fed his faithful with the Body and Blood of Christ, he gave his own blood, his own life for Iraq, for the future of his Church. 

Pew Report: Christianity Most Persecuted Faith Worldwide

  • A Baker’s Dozen of the chief miscreants were Muslim states: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
  • The rise of anti-Semitism is particularly worrisome, especially in Europe.
  • Religious persecution occurs in virtually every Muslim state.

Report: Christianity Most Persecuted Faith Worldwide
by Doug Bandow, CNS News, March 19, 2015

'Our Lady' church in Baghdad, 2010.
Americans take religious liberty for granted. It is the First Freedom, guaranteed by the First Amendment. But four of five people around the world lack the freedom to worship and live faithfully. And the percentage of the world’s population lacking religious liberty recently edged upward. Attacks on Jews hit a recent peak. Even Americans cannot afford to take their freedoms for granted.

The Pew Research Center, with Peter Henne as lead researcher, recently issued its latest study on religious liberty. The report makes for a sad read. Many organizations address religious persecution, which occurs in virtually every Muslim and authoritarian state, plus a diverse mix of other nations. Pew also assesses equally threatening social antagonism, ranging from discrimination to hostility to violence.

In some nations governments take the lead in suppressing the faithful, imposing a range of restrictions backed by the state. Examples include bans on particular faiths, prohibitions on conversion, and restrictions on religious practice. In other countries the people make their societies unfriendly to minority beliefs, imposing a wide range of less formal sanctions. Such behavior includes harassment, intimidation, and violence, including murder. The overall global environment to religious faith is hostile. Concluded the study: “restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39 percent of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77 percent of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76 percent in 2012 and 68 percent as of 2007.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

Yemen: At time of mosque bombing, worshippers were chanting “death to America”

To watch this video play out is to see the tragedy innate to Islam. That so much hatred could be stirred up and perpetuated consistently for fourteen centuries is hard to fathom, but there is no denying it. Notice the young boys chanting the death slogans and curses too. Generational curses handed down age after age. And the hatred endemic to Islam explodes in their midst. Tragic.

posted by Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch, March 22, 2015

In full, they were screaming, “Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam. Allah Akbar. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to–” The last part got caught off by the bombing, which, oddly enough, was not set off by an American or an Israeli.

“Worshippers Chant ‘Death to America’ at Moment of Houthi Mosque Bombing in Yemen,” MEMRI, March 20, 2015:

Following are excerpts from a video of the bombing at the Houthi Al-Hashoush Mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, which was posted on the Internet on March 20, 2015:

Preacher: Our belief in Allah will increase after today. We will triumph over their deceit and their arrogance. Allah is with us…

The worshippers chant: Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam. Allah Akbar. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to…

An arrow on-screen points to a man walking through the crowd, a bomb goes off and worshippers cry out.

Mark Durie: 'Killing Infidels the Key to Paradise: the Islamic State’s Hacking Division'

"Fighting to kill non-Muslims can be a ticket to glory, win or lose: either you kill and gain a get-out-of-hell free card, or you are killed and gain a get-into-paradise-free card. This is a win-win proposition for the jihadi."

by Mark Durie, March 23, 2015

Last week the Islamic State's ‘Hacking Division’ released the names and addresses of one hundred US military personnel.  It urged the ‘brothers residing in America’ – i.e. Muslims in America – to ‘deal with’ them, which is to say, it wants them killed.

It is worth giving careful consideration to the Islamic legal reasoning given by IS in support of their call to kill non-Muslims.

The Hacking Division quoted two verses of the Qur’an:
  • Sura 9:123 ‘fight believers who are near to you’ and 
  • Sura 9:14 ‘Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them, and satisfy [actually yashfi ‘heal’] the breasts of a believing people’.
These two verses include the word qātilū, translated here as ‘fight’, although the Arabic actually means ‘fight to kill’ (see discussion here).  The verbal root q-t-l from which qātilū is formed means ‘kill’.

CBS 60 Minutes: Iraq's Christians persecuted by ISIS

More than 125,000 of Iraq's Christians have been forced to flee the homeland they have lived in for nearly 2,000 years because of ISIS violence and threats.

CBS News, 60 Minutes, Lara Logan reporting
March 22, 2015

The following script is from "Iraq's Christians" which aired on March 22, 2015. Lara Logan is the correspondent. Max McClellan, Jeff Newton and Richard Butler, producers.

There are few places on earth where Christianity is as old as it is in Iraq. Christians there trace their history to the first century apostles. But today, their existence has been threatened by the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State. More than 125,000 Christians -- men, women and children -- have been forced from their homes over the last 10 months.

The Islamic State -- or ISIS -- stormed into Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, last summer and took control. From there, it pushed into the neighboring villages and towns across this region, known as the Nineveh Plains, a vast area that's been home to Christians since the first century after Christ. Much of what took almost 2,000 years to build has been lost in a matter of months.

Monastery of St. Matthew, overlooking the Nineveh Plains

On the side of a mountain, overlooking the Nineveh Plains of ancient Mesopotamia, is the Monastery of St. Matthew. It's one of the oldest on earth.

The voices of its monks have echoed here since the fourth century, uttering prayers that have not changed.

Islamic State Relied on Egyptian Salafi Book to Slaughter 21 Copts in Libya

Further proof of the mainstream Islamic theological and jurisprudence foundations of the Islamic State.

by Raymond Ibrahim, March 17, 2015

Dr. Ahmed Karima, professor of Sharia at Al Azhar University, Egypt,  recently exposed the fact that the Islamic State received its justification to slaughter 21 Coptic Christians in Libya from a book titled (in translation) Christians in the Koran.  

The author of said book is Mahmoud Lutfi ‘Amr—president of Damanhur’s Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiya, that is, “The Supporters of Muhammad’s Example.”

Karima further warned that this book is readily available for all willing eyes to see and ears to hear from it in the district.

Fate of 220 Assyrian Christians Abducted by ISIS Remains Unknown

"Islamic State jihadis have now executed around 2,000 Assyrian Christians, including 1,266 civilians, the [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] says."

by Jordan Schachtel, Breitbart News, March 19, 2015

The fate remains completely uncertain of around 220 Assyrian Christians who continue to be held captive in Syria by the Islamic State terror group.

With each day that passes, the likelihood that the majority of the Assyrian men, women, and children survive captivity diminishes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

“Sheikhs of Arabian clans are still working privately to release the detainees, amid fears by SOHR on their lives after the fake promises by the IS to release them,” reports the Observatory.

Islamic State jihadis have now executed around 2,000 Assyrian Christians, including 1,266 civilians, the human rights group says.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jihadis Cleansing Pakistan of Christians

Imagine what it must be like to worship the Holy Trinity during the Divine Liturgy under the constant threat of gunfire and bombings. 

Sometimes when I hear the Beatitudes sung during the Liturgy, I wonder what our brothers and sisters must think and feel when they sing and hear Christ's words, "Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name's sake. Rejoice! And be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in the heavens!"

For our Christian brethren in the Islamic world, these words are made real. They are experiencing the truth of Christ's words day-by-day in a profound, life-and-death manner we cannot even begin to apprehend in our land of comfort and entertainment.

God forgive us and help us to remember and pray for our persecuted brethren — these confessors and martyrs — and that we may strive just a little more earnestly to deepen our own faith, that we may share in the Resurrection with these witnesses for Christ!

Jihadis Cleansing Pakistan of Christians
by Raymond Ibrahim; March 21, 2015

On Sunday, March 15, as Christian churches around the world were celebrating morning mass, two churches in Pakistan were attacked by Islamic suicide bombers. At least 17 people were killed and over 70 were wounded.

The two churches (located in Youhanabad, Lahore’s Christian quarter) were St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church (Protestant). The Taliban claimed responsibility. It is believed that the group had hoped for much greater death tolls, as there were almost 2,000 people in both churches at the time of the explosions.

According to eyewitnesses, two suicide bombers approached the gates of the two churches and tried to enter them. When they were stopped — including by a 15-year-old Christian who blocked them with his body — they self-detonated. Witnesses saw “body parts flying through the air.”

Thus did the jihadis “kill and be killed,” in the words of Koran 9:111, the verse most often cited to justify suicide attacks.

According to an official statement of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, despite all the threats received by the churches, authorities only provided “minimal” security:
Agents present at the time of the attack were busy watching the cricket match on TV, instead of carrying out their duty to protect churches. As a result of this neglect, many Christians have lost their lives.

The statement further urged:
… the government to adopt strong measures to protect churches and other religious minorities in Pakistan [since] the Christian community of Pakistan was targeted by extremists in the past.

Less than a year-and-a-half earlier, on September 22, 2013, in Peshawar, suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church right after Sunday mass and blew themselves up in the midst of approximately 550 congregants, killing nearly 90 worshippers. Many were Sunday school children, women, and choir members. At least 120 were injured.

One parishioner recalled how “human remains were strewn all over the church.” (For an idea of the aftermath of suicide attacks on churches, see these graphic pictures.)

In 2001, Islamic gunmen stormed St. Dominic’s Protestant Church, opening fire on the congregants and killing at least 16 worshippers, mostly women and children.

Less dramatic attacks on churches occur with great frequency. Days before last Sunday’s twin attacks, three armed men entered Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Kasur district, Punjab, and took church personnel, the assistant parish priest, and congregation hostage. Before leaving the premises, the terrorists stole mobile telephones, cameras, and a computer.

“How Can Any Man With Good Sense” Overlook the Koran’s Violence?

by Raymond Ibrahim
originally posted January 12, 2015

Bruce Thornton writes another great article today titled “Western Sleepwalkers and the Paris Massacre.” He points out the utter lack of common sense in Western responses to repeated jihadi attacks, which are repeatedly portrayed as aberrations by Western media and leaders.  Towards the end he writes, “Our ancestors for centuries acknowledged the true nature of Islam, a simple fact proven by 1000 years of Muslim aggression.” He then quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, “one of our most brilliant political philosophers,” who wrote the following in 1838:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saudi grand mufti calls for demolition of churches

I recall similar stories from 2012 and 2013. In any case, we may be seeing even more such examples of Muslim countries increasing their already relentless persecuting of Christians as they strive to prove their Islamic bonafides and forestall the Islamic State's challenge to their authority.

by Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch — March 18, 2015

This is on Muhammad’s orders: “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.” (Hadith from Sahih Muslim 19.4366)

“Saudi grand mufti calls for demolition of churches"
Times of Israel, March 18, 2015 (thanks to John)

Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim cleric called on Tuesday for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula after legislators in the Gulf state of Kuwait moved to pass laws banning the construction of religious sites associated with Christianity.

Friday, March 20, 2015

CBS 60 Minutes to air special report on Iraq's Christians this Sunday, March 22

This sounds like it will be a significant contribution to our understanding of the situation in Iraq and Syria. Lara Logan will be interviewing two archbishops, one of the last monks from an abandoned 1,600 year old monastery, and other refugees in her on the ground reporting from Iraq.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil says waging war against ISIS fighters is the only way to save the Christian Church in Iraq. Calling ISIS a "cancer" he says, "So sometimes you take some hard measures, unfortunate measures, to deal and treat this cancer." 
Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Mosul... says Christianity is indomitable. "They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot."

Scroll down for preview of story from CBS News. I could not get the embed function to work properly for the video preview, so click here to view the video promo.

Bishop: Make War on ISIS
An Iraqi bishop says waging war against ISIS fighters is the only way to save the Christian Church in Iraq

CBS News, March 19, 2015

The leader of one of Christianity's oldest communities reluctantly says that waging war against ISIS - killing their fighters - is the only way to stop the radical Islamists from destroying Christianity in Iraq. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil speaks to Lara Logan for her report on the plight of thousands of Christians forced to flee ancestral homes from ISIS. Her story will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 22 AT 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The situation with ISIS in Northern Iraq is a dire one for Christians, says Archbishop Warda. "For me, Daesh is a cancer," says the Chaldean Catholic prelate referring to ISIS by its Arabic name. "So sometimes you take some hard measures, unfortunate measures, to deal and treat this cancer," he says. The bishop has seen his flock expand by about 60,000 people in recent months because of an influx of Christian refugees who fled Mosul and the surrounding villages on the Nineveh Plains when ISIS stormed the area last summer. Should the military defeat them, asks Logan. "Please God," replies the archbishop.

On the New Martyrs of the Middle East: An Orthodox Christian View

"Martyrdom forms the whole narrative shape of our history... There is nevertheless beauty and hope that we can find in all this, and it comes from this historic experience of martyrdom which Orthodox Christians know intimately." —Bishop Thomas

I would like to introduce this important epistle by simply reposting the words of an Orthodox Christian archpriest recently featured on this blog:
Perhaps the Christian Faith is being purified and strengthened in the Middle East through the crucible of suffering and hardship... The martyrdoms now occurring among Christians in the Middle East cannot but have some effect on even unbelievers throughout the world.  They may have to re-think their assessment of Christianity, if only grudgingly.
With statements like these, I believe we are seeing an awakening of Orthodoxy in North America in response to the growing ranks of Neo-Martyrs under the sword of emboldened, militant Islam. Truly, "the Blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church." 

On the New Martyrs of the Middle East: An Orthodox Christian View
by His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D.

Beloved in Christ,

Icon of the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya
Last weekend I visited parishes and college students in the Baltimore, MD area. While I was there, Orthodox clergy and faithful asked that I offer a response to what's going on in the Middle East. Attached is my response. Special thanks to Fr Andrew Damick for his contribution to what you'll read here.

To introduce this, I'll simply ask you to pray "for the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the Holy Churches of God, and the union of all men."

In recent months, images and stories of Christians being killed for their faith in the Middle East have flooded our news sources and dominated our social media. We see beheadings and shootings, sometimes available as gruesome videos on the Internet that are intended by their makers to inspire some to join their cause and others to cower in fear. We have seen bishops kidnapped, priests shot in the street as they ministered to the suffering, and innocents lined up and had their heads sawn off with knives.

United Nations Humans Rights Council adopts the first ever statement in support of Christians in the Middle East

On March 13, 2015, the UN Human Rights Council, on the sidelines of its Session XXVII adopted a statement ‘Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East’ initiated by Russia, the Vatican and Lebanon.

Pravmir — March 19, 2015

Our Lady Church in Baghdad
The appearance of this statement has been dictated by the catastrophic situation of Christians in the Middle East who have been subjected to unprecedented persecution by the Islamic State and other terrorist groupings.

‘The existence of many religious communities is seriously threatened. Christians are now especially affected. These days even their survival is in question’, the Council points out.

The authors of the documents state, ‘Millions of people have been either displaced or forced to leave their ancestral lands. Those who stay in conflict zones or areas controlled by terrorist groups live under the permanent threat of human rights violations, repression and abuses. Both communities and individuals fall victim to barbaric acts of violence: they are deprived of homes, driven from their native lands, sold into slavery, killed, beheaded and burnt alive. Dozens of Christian churches and ancient shrines of all religions have been destroyed’.

ISIS 'blows up famed 4th-century Mar Behnam Catholic monastery' in Iraq

Follows less than two weeks after destruction of 10th century Assyrian monastery near Mosul.

by Gianluca Mezzofiore, International Business Times
March 19, 2015

Islamic State (Isis) militants have allegedly blown up parts of the ancient monastery of Mar Behnam near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, south-east of Mosul, according to pictures from IS media shared on twitter and a Kurdish media report.

The photos, released by IS members, show the 4th-century monastery's tomb complex of Mar (Saint) Behnam and Mart (Saint) Sarah reduced to rubble. 

Dr Nicholas al-Jeloo, an expert on Assyrian monasteries in Iraq from the University of Melbourne, visited the monastery, previously run by the Syriac Catholic Church, in January 2010 and confirmed the authenticity of the pictures to IBTimes UK

"I didn't want to see the pictures. This is terrible. I'm in shock," he said. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Madness of Our Age

When Truth is the new ‘Hate Speech’, and True Islam is not Islam

by Ralph H. Sidway

Coptic Icon of St Anthony the Great
In the ‘Sayings of the Desert Fathers’, that collection of the wisdom of the early Christian hermits, there is recounted a saying of St. Anthony the Great, founder of monasticism:

Abba Anthony said that the time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will rise up against him and say, “You are mad, you are not like us.”

It seems to me that this saying is inextricably linked to a prophetic warning Jesus gave to his disciples during the Last Supper:

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

Christians — especially those in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan… well, really throughout the entire Islamic world, according to the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List, which reports that 80% of the fifty worst countries for persecution of Christians have a Muslim majority — as I started to say, Christians may be forgiven for taking Jesus’ words to apply to our own day and age. After all, in case after case, Christians are targeted, persecuted, kidnapped, raped, killed, their churches burned or bombed, crosses broken off, all because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

And in the vast majority of attacks on Christians, there is heard the infamous “Allahu Akbar,” the Muslim jihad battle cry meaning “Allah is greater.” As Raymond Ibrahim persistently points out in his reporting on Muslim Persecution of Christians, these attacks are often in direct response to Friday prayers at the local mosque, where firebrand imams whoop it up with their own “Allahu Akbar”-ing.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, is not merely an educated man, he is a fiqh scholar, which means he knows Islam, and is able to issue fatwas, religious rulings. He must be presenting a compelling case, as he is convincing tens of thousands of Muslims to leave their comfy homes and jobs in the West (and in Muslim nations) and join up with ISIS to expand the nascent caliphate.

Much of their jihad involves persecution of Christians, but the Islamic State is not the only Muslim group targeting the followers of Jesus. Look at the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose followers have been known to rampage through buses and trams checking passengers’ wrists for tattoos of the cross, the telltale sign of Coptic Christians, and kill them on the spot. Then there is the Taliban, and of course the chief group to give ISIS a run for their money in terms of sheer ferocity, Boko Haram in Nigeria (who have just recently pledged their loyalty to caliph al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State).

In Memoriam: Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, 1939-2015

Beloved pastor, galvanizing speaker, trusted educator, author and mentor, and faithful Christian struggler, Fr. Thomas Hopko, quietly reposed in the Lord yesterday, March 18, on the commemoration of the repose of St. Nikolai of Zhicha.

I have wanted for some time to prepare an "annotated" text of his excellent talk, 'The Word of the Cross', expanding on certain points which apply especially to the intersection of Orthodox Christianity and Islam. God willing, I may be able to do so soon.

Just last weekend, for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, I did key on a powerful dogmatic truth which Fr. Thomas expressed in 'The Word of the Cross' as follows (emphasis added):

Beyond the Cross there is nothing more God can do. Beyond the Cross there is nothing more God can say. Beyond the Cross there is nothing more to be revealed.

Today I am compelled to simply give thanks to God for the instruction and inspiration I have received from Fr. Thomas over my nearly thirty years as an Orthodox Christian. Although I only met him briefly at a couple of talks and retreats, his recorded presentations, available through SVS Press, Ancient Faith Radio, and YouTube, have made a deep impact on my life and my modest efforts at serving the Church. 

Last September, Fr. Thomas accompanied me on a grand pilgrimage out west, figuratively speaking, of course. I had the expansive blessing of driving from central Alabama to Dallas, then north-west to Santa Fe and Canones NM, where I stayed a couple of days at Archangel Michael Monastery (OCA), then up to Denver to visit a beloved monastic mentor of mine, and then back east-south-east. For my journey of over 3000 miles across the vast American landscape I decided it was the perfect opportunity to revisit Fr Hopko's multi-CD talk on The Lord's Prayer. I thank God for having such a 'companion' for my pilgrimage!

With this as with all his talks and writings, it has always seemed to me that Fr. Thomas was never merely theoretical or even theological, but was always pastoral. He always made the teachings real to his listeners. And this is because he clearly was applying it to his own life, his own circumstances (as could be readily discerned from his asides and self-deprecatory wit). The living and practice of our Christian life has to be real, otherwise it is worse than fake, it is unto condemnation.

Thank God for Fr. Thomas!
May his memory be eternal!

The distilled fruit of Fr. Thomas Hopko's lifetime of Christian life and service may be seen in the below text, '55 Maxims'. 

Additional key links are as follows:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Islamic State destroys churches, smashing crosses and icons

The smashing of crosses and destruction of churches is a harbinger of Islamic apocalyptic dreams, and stems from Islam's deep hatred of Christianity, as seen in this hadith:
Muhammad said: "There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus. He will descend (to the earth)... He will fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizya. Allah will perish all religions except Islam." (Sunan Abu Dawud 37.4310)

ISIS Destroys Assyrian Churches, Hostages Still Being Held
AINA, March 16, 2015

ISIS has posted pictures, on its twitter accounts, of its members destroying the St. George Monastery in Mosul. The pictures show ISIS members using sledgehammers to smash crosses and icons, and removing the cross from the dome and replacing it with the black ISIS flag.

ISIS captured Mosul on June 10, 2014 and immediately destroyed or occupied all 45 Assyrian churches and other religious institutions in the city.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ohio Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Cleveland area events April 24-25 lead into national gatherings at Washington D.C.

Full schedule below...
(Thanks to John for sharing this.)

For background on the Armenian Genocide, see this essential article by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, who calculated that in Asia Minor over 3.6 million Eastern Christians were killed by Muslims from 1894 to 1923. The Armenian Genocide is one of the most horrific examples of the 14-century-old pattern of Islamic jihad against Christians. Its relevance for us today is obvious, as we are seeing a new genocide against Christians being committed by Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa.

Cleveland Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

The decision to annihilate the entire Armenian population came directly from the ruling triumvirate of ultra-nationalist Young Turks. The actual extermination orders were transmitted in coded telegrams to all provincial governors throughout Turkey. Armed roundups began on the evening of April 24, 1915, as 300 Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, clergy and dignitaries in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) were taken from their homes, briefly jailed and tortured, then hanged or shot (United Human Rights Council).

By the end of WWI in 1918, 1.5 million Armenians were dead. So this year the Armenian community in Ohio will unite to commemorate the Centennial and honor the memory of the Armenians who perished at the hands of the Turkish Moslems.


'We must be Crucified...'

A message for the Week of the Cross, from the Journal of Fr. Seraphim Rose, cited in 'Fr. Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works', by Hieromonk Damascene:

"Let us not, who would be Christians, expect anything else from it than to be crucified. For to be a Christian is to be crucified, in this time and in any time since Christ came for the first time. His life is the example—and warning—to us all. 
"We must be crucified personally, mystically; for through crucifixion is the only path to resurrection. If we would rise with Christ, we must first be humbled with Him—even to the ultimate humiliation, being devoured and spit forth by the uncomprehending world.
"And we must be crucified outwardly, in the eyes of the world; for Christ's Kingdom is not of this world, and the world cannot bear it, even in a single representation of it, even for a single moment. The world can only accept Antichrist, now or at anytime.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Beyond the Cross

For this Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, I'd like to share a selection from my book, Facing Islam. This is taken from the conclusion of the chapter on Muhammad, 'Prophet Motives - Was Muhammad a Man of God?'.

Beyond the Cross

By far the most compelling, overarching point to emphasize as we close this chapter is the Person and Mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the absolute, incontestable finality and divine pre-eminence of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, through Whom God the Father has wrought salvation for mankind. 

Fr. Thomas Hopko expresses the essence of the Christian message through the centrality of Christ and the Cross as follows: 

Beyond the Cross there is nothing more God can do. Beyond the Cross there is nothing more God can say. Beyond the Cross there is nothing more to be revealed. (Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Word of the Cross, SVS Press, emphasis added.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Anglican Vicar defiles his church, commits apostasy, by holding Muslim prayer service, praising "the god that we love, Allah."

How deeply tragic is the stampede to Christian apostasy in the West.

The church in which this act happened is now defiled. If such a blasphemous act were to be performed in an Orthodox church, the priest would be immediately suspended and defrocked, and the defiled church would be closed until an exorcism could be performed and the church could be re-consecrated by the bishops.

Why so stern a reaction?

First of all, Muslims do not worship the True God; they reject Jesus Christ and the Blessed Trinity. We do not pray to the same God, how then could we pray together?

This does not mean that we hate or reject Muslims. Far from it! We invite them to "come and see," to learn about the real Jesus Christ (who is very different from the vague character of "Isa" in the Koran), and to come to know the True God through Christ. They are invited to attend Orthodox Christian services, but as inquirers or, if they are sincere in leaving their false religion and being united to the Lord Jesus Christ, they may become catechumens. Before their baptism, they will be solemnly asked three times to renounce satan. When you are embracing the Light, you must leave all darkness behind.

Secondly, the Christian church is a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem. Therefore only Christian worship may be performed in it. The altar in a Christian temple is a type of the heavenly altar. Upon it, the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist is performed, mystically uniting the worshipping congregation into the presence of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. In light of this, how could an anti-Christian service be allowed to be conducted in a Christian temple?

Thirdly, the priest is not merely a celebrant, and is certainly not free to add, adapt or improvise services according to his fancy, but is a servant of Christ, and represents Christ to the congregation. He is the one who performs the eucharistic service, distributing the Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful. If he tries to mingle falsehood with truth, he is proving he is not a good shepherd but a hireling (perhaps even a wolf!), and self-condemned, he excommunicates himself from the life of the Church, he betrays Christ all over again.

Then there are the words of St Paul:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? [2 Corinthians 6:14-16]

That Rev. Giles Goddard has so flagrantly violated Christian dogma, scripture, and liturgical praxis and theology that he has committed nearly the grossest apostasy imaginable. He has willingly, of his own design and choice, brought into the church the "abomination which causes desolation." He has turned a church into a mosque. His very salvation is in grave danger if he does not repent of this blasphemy. He has done willingly that to which his forefathers would have preferred death.

No doubt Rev. Goddard is sincere, but he is sincerely deluded.  He believes in and worships his own wisdom in going beyond Christ. He also proves his abject ignorance regarding Islam, which is the quintessential anti-Christian heresy, as seen in the Quranic texts below.

The root word for heresy means "to choose." Giles Goddard is a heretic, as is everyone who chooses to believe and act upon the "Same God" heresy. May he be brought to repentance and united to Christ's Church.

We can't tell from the news story below if the traditionalist Anglicans are scandalized by this for the correct reasons. It is mentioned that the act was "against canon law" and "completely illegal," but is there any sense in the Anglican church as to WHY?  Or is this another symptom, along with women priestesses and bishops and same-sex marriage, of the growing apostasy of the Anglican communion?

Thankfully, there are some positive examples coming out of the Church of England as well.

Related: Having Completed the Forty Days - Apothegmata or Apostasy?

UK: Anglican vicar holds Muslim prayer service in his church, asks congregation to praise “the god that we love, Allah”
by Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch, March 13, 2015

When Giles Goddard painted that cross on his church building, and had one placed on his forehead, was he aware of this hadith? 

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, ‘By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government). Then there will be abundance of money and no-body will accept charitable gifts.'” (Bukhari 3.34.425)

Did the Muslim prayer service include any of these Qur’an readings?

Christians have forgotten part of the divine revelations they received: “From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did take a covenant, but they forgot a good part of the message that was sent them: so we estranged them, with enmity and hatred between the one and the other, to the day of judgment. And soon will Allah show them what it is they have done.” — Qur’an 5:14 
Jesus is not the Son of God: “O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender.” — Qur’an 4:171 
“It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” — Qur’an 19:35

Raymond Ibrahim: 'The Koran and Eternal War'

This was originally published back in November of last year, but is such an important and well reasoned article that it deserves to be more widely read.

by Raymond Ibrahim
November 26, 2014

Originally published by VIE

News recently emerged that Russia was banning key Islamic scriptures—including Sahih Bukhari—on the charge that they promote “exclusivity [supremacism] of one of the world’s religions,” namely Islam; or, in the words of a senior assistant to the prosecutor of Tatarstan Ruslan Galliev, “a militant Islam” which “arouses ethnic, religious enmity.”

If Sahih Bukhari, a nine-volume hadith collection compiled in the 9th century and seen by Sunni Muslims as second in importance only to the Koran itself is being banned for inciting hostility, where does that leave the Koran?

After all, if Sahih Bukhari contains pro-terrorism statements attributed to the prophet of Islam and calls to kill Muslims who leave Islam, the Koran, Islam’s number one holy book itself is full of intolerance and calls for violence against non-believers. A tiny sampling of proclamations from Allah follows:

Friday, March 13, 2015

'Islam can be a violent faith', says Queen’s chaplain

Rev. Canon Ashenden expresses concerns about 100 passages in the Koran that "invite people to violence," and says, "If you’re going to invite people to be dedicated followers of their scriptures, Christians will go around forgiving people and Islamists will do something else."

AXIOS!  This is all that we wish to see, Christian clergy, educators and leaders simply speaking the truth about Islam without varnish, without acrimony, and especially without offering the false platitude that ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamic jihadist groups "have nothing to do with Islam."

by Jack Doyle, Daily Mail, March 12, 2015:
h/t Jihad Watch

The honest and forthright Rev. Gavin Ashenden, Chaplain to H.R.H. Elizabeth II

There are passages in the Koran which ‘invite people to violence’, one of the Queen’s chaplains said last night.

Reverend Canon Gavin Ashenden, the former chaplain of Sussex University and one of 35 who serve Her Majesty, expressed concern about more than 100 passages in the Muslim holy book.

But the Church of England priest declined to say whether parts of the Koran are ‘evil’, instead advising people to make up their own minds.