Current events reveal a heartbreaking reality about Christians suffering in the Middle East. There seem to be very few authorities Middle Eastern Christians can turn to for basic human freedoms and protection.
Asia news reports that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is presently in Milan celebrating the 1,700 anniversary of the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313). Constantine the Great was the first Christian Emperor who decreed religious freedom for Christians and stopped the 300 year blood bath of early Church martyrs within the Roman Empire.
Bartholomew pointed out that instead of religious freedom, “With great sorrow today we see Christians, of all denominations, persecuted in many places, deemed enemies of society and the state; [we see that] the Christian faith is not tolerated in many countries and under many laws. Despite the progress apparently noted in the world with regard to respect of human rights, the persecution of the Christians has not ceased.”
The Patriarch of Constantinople observed that the Edict of Milan did not end Christian persecution for all time. “The persecution of Christians has not ceased… the Church of Christ will never cease to generate martyrs.”
This statement could not be truer as the Middle East has been riddled with worse-than-usual Christian persecution during the past decade.
In a bleak but very observant essay by Andrew Doran, he reveals our American foreign policy as a scandal to Christianity because it continues to nourish an environment hostile to Christians living in the Middle East.:
The objective of the Iraq War—to democratize the Middle East—may yet be realized. But democracy in the Middle East is proving less tolerant than the regimes it has succeeded. Unless swift action is taken, these democracies will evolve into bastions of intolerance and violence beyond our comprehension.
A hundred years from now, I suspect the lasting historical legacy of the American interventions in the Middle East and of the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt will be the end of Christianity in the Middle East.
Most Christians living in the Middle East are Arabs who find themselves stuck between the hammer of Islamic jihad and the anvil of American-Israeli foreign policy. Mathew Block of First Things reports that “Christians (including clergy and foreign diplomats) were attacked by Israeli police as they attempted to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the day before Orthodox Easter.”
As a result of their Arab ethnicity, many Christians in the Holy Land find themselves more closely aligned with Muslim Palestinians than Jewish Israelis. The grievances of Muslim Palestinians are therefore often shared by Christian Palestinians.
Such bleak news can inspire hopelessness, but the words of David come to mind, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps 146:3) “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.” (Ps 118:8)
Why shouldn’t world leaders “turn to God to draw inspiration,” Pope Francis asked during his speech to four new ambassadors to the Vatican. If public leaders do not seek the interests of God, how can they understand or defend the interests of those they have been entrusted to protect. Christians will continue to be martyred in the Middle East. They desperately need courage and endurance. We must offer them our solidarity and our prayers. “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (Cor 12:26)
This week the pontificate of Pope Francis was dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, at the pope’s request, by Cardinal Polycarp of Lisbon.
“Contemporary humanity needs to feel loved by God and by the Church,” Cardinal Polycarp said. “If humanity feels loved, it will overcome the temptation to violence, materialism, estrangement from God, loss of direction, and it will be able to advance towards a new world in which love will prevail.”
The words of Our Lady to the children of Fatima also come to mind, “If Russia is not converted she will spread her errors throughout the world, promoting wars and persecutions of Christians.”
The errors of Russia in 1916 were atheism and communism and, as we look back with horror on the events of the 20th century, we can see that these errors did spread with the ill effect Our Lady prophesied. Prayer for the conversion of sinners remains the answer to a world that is perpetually blinded by its own folly and demonic lies.
Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis, like their apostolic predecessors, are calling all Christians to prayer, charity, and unity. Christian unity is not just a nice idea, it has become a necessity for survival in our post-modern society.
Celebrating the anniversary of the Edict of Milan is quite relevant. An aspect of Constantine’s work that Bartholomew highlighted in Milan is the fact that:
“The Emperor was very interested, and rightly so, in the unity of the Church, which presupposes unity in faith, without which it is essentially impossible. Constantine the Great understood the need for spiritual unity among his subjects, as a commitment to the prosperity of the state, and as his ardent desire to see the people of his empire united under the one and only guide of life and love, our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The organization of a united Christian empire was part of Constantine the Great’s broad vision, in which peace, fraternity, solidarity, harmony, and love would have reigned. Certainly, without such a vision, today’s Europe, speaking by analogy, would not have this spiritual heritage. The world too would not have caught with the same depth the spread of the Christian message on God, man, and the world – a message that has and should have the single purpose of man’s sanctification (theosis).”
Bartholomew concluded by saying, “By living according to the commandments of the Holy Gospel and acting with wisdom and continued sanctification, we are trying not to let fear stop us from resisting the destructive power of globalization and material life in today’s world.”