They’ve destroyed walls and historical sites, but they were unable to destroy the faith of the community. And that’s the good news, that our people are strong enough to leave everything behind and just stay Christians.”
— Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda
There seems to be no end to the fear-mongering about the imaginary “War on Christians” by the likes of Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, Fox News Channel’s self-appointed keeper of Christianity Bill O’Reilly and so many others.
This imaginary “war” has the unintended effect, in my humble opinion, of trivializing and diminishing the very real war being waged on Christians by ISIS.
I’ll share a story with you below about three monks and six students, who’ve taken refuge in an ancient Christian monastery, who are perfectly willing to die rather than flee from the real threat of real persecution by the god-awful terrorists of ISIS.
But I’ll preface that with some thoughts about the state and future of American Christianity . . . . .
First, there’s not a Christian believer or pastor in the United States of America — God bless her great national soul — who is under anything remotely like the threat of being killed, nor even having a church shut down or destroyed by anybody, least of all by the small minority of American homosexuals among us.
Even if gay marriage is legalized across the land, Christians in America will carry on, and do so with all their constitutional rights intact. And never mind the constant, shrill warnings from Huckabee and others that gays will seize a Supreme Court ruling as an opportunity to somehow “destroy Christianity and churches in America.”
Furthermore, it’s a sure bet at the casino nearest you that the overwhelming masses of heterosexual American Christians and their families and friends populating America will continue to consume copious amounts of America’s most dangerous drug (alcohol) and indulge in gluttony (no American Christian dare calls gluttony a sin) at the thousands upon thousands of supposedly “Christian” weddings held every weekend in America.
There’s a reason that the movie “Wedding Crashers” (click here for details) was one of the biggest box-office hits of 2005. It resonated with tens of millions of American Christians who could relate to the pagan excesses of so many weddings, and perfectly captured how mindless and hedonistic wedding parties can be.
By and large, a wedding reception nowadays is no tea party celebrated with maybe a glass or two of champagne for toasting and social lubrication.
Wedding receptions nowadays can be as rowdy, and the behavior as randy, as at any Republican convention. (I speak from experience as one who covered a Republican Party convention and made the late-night, all-night party rounds, pre-ministry.)
Look, dear reader . . . no priest or pastor is ever forced to preside at the wedding of any couple, be it a straight or gay couple, and won’t be regardless of the much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.
I was once asked to do the wedding of a couple who had known each other exactly one month — yes, I said one month — and wanted to get married as soon as they could get their hands on a government-issued license. (Churches and clergy don’t get to issue licenses, for good reason.)
I advised them that they might want to take — you know — more time to get to know each other before they stood before God and exchanged Christian vows in the great covenant, and maybe to take the time to cultivate a church life together.
They got married about two weeks later anyway by a justice of the peace. This marriage occurred six weeks after they met — no kidding — at a big wedding bash. (The young woman was a registered nurse, by the way, and the young man had just received his MBA, so it’s not as if they were a couple of starry-eyed teenagers.)
Nobody forces a pastor or priest to marry two people, and nobody is going to force a priest or pastor to preside at the wedding of a gay couple, contrary to the now widespread and growing belief — thanks to the Huckabees and Grahams — that that’s going to ensue.
Christianity in all its many and diverse expressions in our many and various faith traditions, and all the many varied wedding and wedding-party traditions, from the solemn and sober to the pagan, will carry on — with not one American Christian or person of the cloth being beheaded or any Christian’s house of worship torn asunder by any gays supposedly out to “kill Christianity,” as asserted by Bill O’Reilly, a man who has a strange obsession with killing as evidenced by the themes and titles of his books.
* * * *
The following story from the Catholic News Agency, about three monks and a half-dozen students taking refuge in an ancient monastery, underscores what real persecution and the threat of it is like.
It also underscores what the freedom that comes with devout faith is. Here are three monks and six students living in the shadow of death, but fearing no evil. Nine believers so full of faith and freedom as to be willing to die on holy ground rather than run away.
Their story reminded me of one of the best of Christian movies ever made, “Of Gods and Men.” I blogged about this beautiful faith film, based on a true story, a few years ago. Click here to read that past posting.
And so with no further ado:
Here’s the Catholic News Agency report — or click here to read it.
Erbil, Iraq, Jun 9, 2015 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite the potential threat from the nearby Islamic State, several monks and students in northern Iraq have found refuge in an ancient monastery, certain they are in God’s hands no matter what happens.
Erbil’s Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda said that those who have chosen to remain in the fourth century Monastery of Saint Matthew have “expressed their faith that this is a secure place.”
He told CNA June 8 that although these Christians are now being protected by the Kurdish military, their sense of safety is not only due to the military presence.
“There is a kind of feeling that they cannot express but they at least feel relaxed in a way that even if, God forbid, something would happen, they are in safe hands.”
The Iraqi archbishop was the main speaker at a Thursday press briefing in Rome regarding the latest developments in his war-torn country.
Although the Islamic State maintains control over much of the region after seizing the area last summer, and many people in nearby villages have fled, three monks and six students have expressed their determination to remain in the monastery.
“We can see the battles and the airstrikes from here in front of us, especially at night,” Yousif Ibrahim, a monk at the monastery, told USA Today. “The sky lights up at night, but we of course are not scared. God protects us.”
In June 2014, the Islamic State launched an offensive against northern Iraq, overruning the nation’s second-largest city of Mosul. In August, it further extended its reach in the regions surrounding the city. The militants have displaced hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes while slaughtering or enslaving thousands of others.
The monastery, known also as Mar Mattai, was established in 363 by the hermit Saint Matthew, who had fled Rome during the persecutions of the emperor Julian the Apostate. The monastery is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq. It is currently under the authority of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
Sahar Karaikos, a student at the monastery, said he is not afraid despite the very real possibility of the monastery being invaded.
“I don’t even want to think or speak about the destruction the Islamic State would cause if they took our monastery,” he told USA Today.
Located on the edge of the conflict, Saint Matthew’s Monastery risks becoming the latest Christian landmark to be destroyed by the militant group’s campaign throughout Iraq.
Archbishop Warda said the destruction of the Christian heritage is tragic, but he is more concerned with the people’s faith.
“They’ve destroyed walls and historical sites, but they were unable to destroy the faith of the community. And that’s the good news. That our people are strong enough to leave everything behind and just stay Christians.”
Many Christians have been killed since the militants began their campaign to establish a caliphate. For those who remain, martyrdom remains a possibility.
Archbishop Warda at the June 4 briefing responded to a relevant question: whether he was prepared for martyrdom.
He responded: “It’s better not to think about it.”
“When it comes, my wish is just to be ready. All I wish is to be ready and to have the courageous response like my people have given. Christ is the only wish that we love.”