The Orthodox Church is known as the “Church of the Martyrs” because of the intense sacrifice of millions of Orthodox Christians who have given up life and limb for their Faith. The earliest days of the Church saw bishops, priests, deacons, and the faithful tortured for their unwavering Faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. Throughout the centuries the Orthodox Church has been continuously attacked by heretics, invaders, and the persecution of governments from around the world.
In the 20th century alone, it’s estimated that under Jewish-led Communism that as many as forty million Orthodox Christians were martyred around the globe. While communism has come and gone, persecution of Orthodox Christians is continuing on unabated. The Middle East in which our Faith was born is now the site of some of the most widespread persecutions of Christians on the planet, especially in Syria.
The Syrian conflict is one that truly demonstrates the principles that motivate each of the sides. The Israeli- and American-backed jihadists attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and his Baathist Party are at war with everything that Traditionalists believe in. Family, folk, and faith are all being systematically attacked in Syria by the jihadist forces, with American weapons (Your tax dollars at work!). While there is a battle against President Assad and the Syrian Arab Army, there is a total war against the Orthodox Church in Syria.
Prior to the US-backed attacks on the Syrian government, the lives of Christians in Syria were relatively calm. While President Assad and the majority of Syrians are Muslims, Christians had better legal and social protections than in almost all neighboring countries, including America’s “ally”, Israel. Like in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, Christians were given government positions and degrees of autonomy to govern their own affairs. While stronger allowances for Evangelism and conversion would be preferable, the Syrian Orthodox Church was at the very least protected from open persecution faced by most Christian churches in the region. However, this peaceful coexistence of an Orthodox Christian minority and Muslim majority came to an end the same way it did in Iraq when the Americans came to town.
The “revolutions” in Ukraine, Syria, Romania, and all around the world always appear at first to be revolutions of the people, until the facts start coming out. In Syria the narrative of a tyrannical despot being overthrown by a modern Continental Army fighting for “freedom, justice, and human rights” quickly became replaced by videos of Islamic jihadists hacking heads and limbs off of civilians, large-scale gang rape against Syrian women by rebel forces, and a focused assault against the Christian minority of Syria. As Islamic fighters from Western Europe, Chechnya, and other parts of the Middle East flooded to fight the government of Syria, the people of Syria rallied behind their leader and their nation.
The radical fundamentalist Wahhabists’ attempt to create a global Caliphate is one that truly destroys a nation and a people. Science, music, culture, and unique ethnic expressions are ground under the boot heel of Sharia law, thereby destroying the local culture. These jihadists not only wage war upon Christians, but fellow Muslims who are tolerant of Christians and enjoy their native folkish expressions. They’re attempting to entirely subvert and dismantle thousands of years of culture and history in order to put in place another brick on a global and monolithic monstrosity known as a Caliphate in which all Muslims are forced to live under the dogmatic rules of Sharia law with no consideration for individual cultural expressions, race, or ethnicity. While the Western media may portray the Syrian conflict as a “civil war” the truth is anything but. Islamic jihadists from around the globe are bent upon the total destruction of the Syrian people, especially Christians, and nothing less.
The brutality against Syrian Christians has only increased over the two and a half years of the battle in Syria. Two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped in the city of Aleppo, in which now currently only one is thought to still be alive. Priests and laity alike have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed in ever increasing numbers as the tide has begun to turn against the Islamic rebels. A coalition of Orthodox Christians from around the world, anti-Zionist organizations such as Hezbollah, and the unwavering support of the Syrian Christian community have tipped the scales away from the Western and Israeli backed jihaddists and back into the favor of the nationalists.
While the rebels’ prospects grow increasingly sour, a dedicated move to extinguish as many Syrian Christians as possible is underway in rebel held areas. Dozens of churches, some over a thousand years old, have been ransacked and burned to the ground. Christian crosses have been torn from buildings and religious icons which were taken from homes and religious sites have been torched in large bonfires following their capture by Islamic jihadists. Mortar and gunman attacks against Christian communities has killed men, women, children, and the elderly, but it has also emboldened the Christian minority to fight back against the jihadists. Orthodox men have taken up arms together to fight for President Assad and to defend their own communities. Baptized in blood, these modern day crusaders are truly fighting for Faith, Family, and Folk.
One of the worst atrocities against the Christian community has been the destruction of the monastery of Saint Thekla, and the kidnapping of the nuns who lived there.
Saint Thekla was known as being “equal to the Apostles” and worked to spread the Gospel with Saint Paul in the first generation of the Church. The monastery in her name included her holy relics and countless prized church icons that were centuries old. Father Makarios Gulwma told reporters that “The fighters of Al-Nusra and Free Sham removed the bells of the churches of historic Maaloula, and torched the iconostasis of the Orthodox Monastery of St. Thekla and Melklite Catholic Monastery of Saint Sergius. They also violated and plundered the grave of St. Thekla. They burned all the crosses and destroyed them. The situation went from bad to worse when the jihadists attacked and then kidnapped the nuns who had been taking care of the sick, and suffering local orphans. These nuns have been held in captivity for several months, and they risk suffering a painful martyrdom at any moment.
Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama said about the kidnapping of the nuns that, “We’ve now reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong? It’s a crime. The abductors want to demonstrate that they show no mercy.”
No mercy and no quarter are the realities facing the Syrian Orthodox population. From the catacombs of Rome, to the royal palace of Moscow, to the streets of war torn Syria the Orthodox Church has been under continual oppression for nearly 2,000 years. While our enemies may kill our bodies, they can never kill our devotion to Christ and to His Church. With the Holy Spirit inside of us all, Christians must stand against the attacks against our brothers and sisters in Syria and throughout the world. The Syrian Church needs our help, and all Orthodox Christians should answer the call.