Around the world, Orthodox Christians are preparing to celebrate
the holiest of weeks on the Church calendar. On Sunday, we begin
the week that leads up to the celebration of the resurrection of
Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. The services of this week
are some of the most profound of the Orthodox Church as we
follow in the steps of Jesus on His way to the cross.
Most of us will celebrate the resurrection of Christ with family and
friends. Some might head out to their favorite restaurant, and some
will stay home and opt for a more relaxed meal around the family
table. It is certainly a Norman Rockwell moment.
But things will be very different for Christians in Egypt and Syria.
The very places that gave birth to Christianity and sheltered Jesus
when His family was on the run from those who would kill Him, has
become a killing field for Christians.
On July 15, 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross
declared the Syrian Civil War a "non-international armed conflict"
-- the legal definition of a civil war. I find it interesting that
it has been declared non-international, because the government of
the United States has been supporting the rebels with almost $3
million in direct aid and equipment. The United States is involved
in this civil war and has turned a blind eye to the murder of
Christians and other religious minorities.
Since the war began in March of 2011, more than 70,000 people have
died. A February estimate places the internally displaced at 3.6
million, and an additional 1.3 million have been forced to flee
Syria for neighboring countries as refugees, all the while the
government of the United States continues to support the very people
responsible for the killing.
On Monday, two Orthodox bishops of the diocese of the city, Syriac
Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the diocese of Aleppo and
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yaziji, were
kidnapped. The irony of their kidnapping is that they were
returning from a meeting to attempt the release of two priests Fr.
Michel Kayyal (Armenian Catholic) and Fr. Maher Mahfouz (Greek
Orthodox), kidnapped in February and still remaining in the hands of
the kidnappers. They were on a mission of peace, to bring aid and
comfort, and they were taken hostage as part of the systematic
extermination of the Christian population in Syria.
Recently the United States Commission on International Religious
Freedom released a Special Report (below) on
the deteriorating situation in Syria. "Protecting
and Promoting Religious Freedom in Syria" lists several
occurrences of systematic extermination of the native Christian
population. As an example, the city of Homs, which had an estimated
Christian population of 160,000, has been reduced to just one
thousand at last count. Greek Orthodox Priest Father Fadi Jamil
Haddad was found killed outside of Damascus in September of 2012. He
had been trying to secure the release of a parishioner that had been
kidnapped. These are just a few examples of what is being carried
out daily in Syria and supported by the government of the United
What has been called the "Arab Spring" in Syria has become the
Christian Nightmare and it is high time that the United States
government realize the part it has played and continues to play in
this ethnic cleansing, genocide, holocaust whatever word you choose
to describe what is being perpetrated on the religious minorities in
Syria as well as Egypt.
In the Orthodox Church, the Saturday before Palm Sunday is set aside
to remember the raising of Lazarus from the tomb. Lazarus was Jesus
friend, and we are told in Scripture that Jesus wept when He heard
the news of the death of His friend. Orthodox Christians around the
world have joined in prayer that the two bishops kidnapped will be
released from their tomb as well. There has been enough weeping
The Commission's Report:
Press Release: SYRIA: USCIRF Issues
Report on “Protecting and Promoting Religious
Freedom in Syria,” April 22, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 22, 2013 | By USCIRF
The U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an
independent federal agency created to monitor
religious freedom abuses abroad and make policy
recommendations to the President, the Secretary of
State, and Congress, today issued “Protecting
and Promoting Religious Freedom in Syria.”
USCIRF has become
increasingly concerned about religious freedom
conditions in Syria, both during the current crisis
and in its aftermath. Due to the intensifying
conflict between government forces and affiliates
supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime and
anti-government elements seeking his overthrow, the
Syrian people have experienced egregious violations
of human rights, including freedom of religion or
The report found that
the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict
has created a climate in which the human rights of
all Syrians, including religious freedom, have been
violated. The conflict also threatens Syria’s
religious diversity, as members of the smallest
minority communities are either fleeing the country
or face an uncertain future in a post al-Assad
This report provides
USCIRF’s preliminary findings and recommendations.
Over the coming months, USCIRF will continue to
monitor the situation and expects to issue
additional reports and recommendations.