Coming October 7: St Vladimir’s Seminary Orthodox Education Day: ‘Modern Martyrs’
While I am glad to see this focus on the New Martyrs of the 21st Century, organized by one of American Orthodoxy’s most important institutions, and am very interested to explore the various materials, talks, and hoped-for reviews, there remains an enormous question looming over the event, an ‘elephant in the room’ if you will:
Will Islam be discussed?
And if so, will Islam’s commands to wage jihad against Christians — especially those verses in the Quran explicitly cited by all Muslim persecutors of Christians, from ISIS to Boko Haram to “known wolf” jihadis in Europe and North America, to the “ordinary” Muslims in Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Kosovo, Indonesia, etc. — be honestly and straightforwardly addressed?
Judging from the more thorough event description recently posted on the SVS and OCA websites and featured below, it appears Islam may only be mentioned in an oblique manner if at all, but I am hopeful the truth will be spoken.
Some may wholly reject the notion that Islam bears any responsibility for Muslims murdering Christians throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, etc. But what factual evidence could they present to support their claims? The Muslim jihadis themselves cite Islam’s sacred texts in support of their actions. Even more to the point, there is ominous widespread support among Muslims — both in the Islamic wold and in the West — for ISIS and jihad (see here, here, here and here).
Others may ask, why is it at all important for Orthodox Christians to discuss whether Islam has anything to do with the global phenomenon of Muslim persecution for Christians.
Perhaps because the saints have always openly addressed the challenge from Islam:
St Sophronius of Jerusalem, writing in 636 AD after the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem, called Islam “the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets…”
St John of Damascus, writing less than a century later, in his section on Heresies in his monumental work, The Fount of Knowledge, was no less direct:
“the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist… a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst… he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.”
St Gregory Palamas, who was himself captured by Muslims in 1354 AD and held under threat of death for a year until ransomed by the Orthodox Serbs, was equally plainspoken about Islam’s false prophet:
“It is true that Muhammad started from the east and came to the west, as the sun travels from east to west. Nevertheless he came with war, knives, pillaging, forced enslavement, murders, and acts that are not from the good God but instigated by the chief manslayer, the devil.”
Skipping over modern saints such as Kosmas of Aitolia and Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, we come to the Holy New Martyr Fr Daniil Sysoev, whose missionary outreach to Muslims and open debates with them were defended by his friend and co-struggler Fr George Maximov:
“Among those who call themselves Orthodox, I have met such strange people who say that Fr. Daniel should not preach to Muslims, that one must respect their religion, and that there is no benefit from his preaching. But Fr. Daniel thought, as did the Lord, the Apostles, and all the saints, that one must respect mistaken people but not their mistakes. Truth is one, that which contradicts and negates truth is a lie, and respect for a lie is contempt for the truth.”
The saints were plainspoken because they knew that Islam is fallen, false, and of the devil. They did not speak with “nuanced” platitudes, but with the force of the Spirit of Truth, in the hopes that some might hear and repent and be saved.
The spirit of this world, the spirit of the age, demands that Islam be defended at all cost, and that any criticism or honest questioning about Islam be shut down. It is now “hate speech” to simply report what the Quran commands about warring against and killing Christians, which is precisely what the Muslim jihadis themselves say about their motives for bombing, beheading, stabbing and driving vehicles into crowds.
Let us not avoid stating the truth: Islam itself is the primary direct cause of the new age of Christian Martyrdom and even sex trafficking (also to be discussed at the SVS Education Day event). With only a couple of exceptions, the top 50 worst countries for persecution of Christians are Islamic countries.
The Quran is supposed to be the literal words of Allah, transmitted by Muhammad. By this we instantly know that the god of Islam is a false god, and is not the True God. Our Lord and God Jesus Christ warned us about false prophets, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Let us simply hold to the True Faith and reject any and every false teaching.
Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. — 1 John 2:22-23
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble… the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” — John 16:1-3
Perhaps significantly, the report of this event on the website of the Orthodox Church in America does not use the SVS poster, but instead uses the icon of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs killed in Libya by ISIS. This is a good indication:
Orthodox Education Day: “Modern Martyrs”
October 7, 2017
St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
575 Scarsdale Road
Yonkers, NY 10707
The Seminary’s annual open house and fall festival—Orthodox Education Day—will address one of the most painful realities of the 21st century: “Modern Martyrs: Christians of the Middle East and North Africa.” The Reverend Dr. George L. Parsenios, associate professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary, and sessional professor of New Testament, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, will present the Keynote: “Dying, and Behold, We Live: Martyrdom in the New Testament.” Father George will focus on sections of Scripture in 2 Corinthians and in the Gospel of John, chapter 9 (the healing of the Blind Man), where suffering is connected to assimilation to Christ and being “in Christ.”
Although Christians have lived in the Middle East—the birthplace of Christianity—for nearly two thousand years, as a result of war, and years of persecution and discrimination, especially in the past 15 years, they now constitute no more than 3–4% of the region’s population, down from 20% a century ago. And all of us are aware of the recent horrific murders of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the daily bigotry and discrimination they suffer.
On Saturday, October 7, 2017, we invite the public both to learn about the history of Christianity in the Middle East and North Africa, and to reflect upon what it means to witness to Christ in the face of persecution. In Greek, the word witness is mártyras, and we will be praying for faithful Christians for whom this word holds immediate import and exacts real consequence as they profess their faith.
The day will begin with Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m., and other chapel services will include an Akathist service to the New Martyrs and Great Vespers. Three Hierarchs Chapel and the SVS Bookstore will be open to the public throughout the day, and children’s activities and lectures centered on the day’s theme will be offered. And, we will be providing special hospitality to our guests with tables of ethnic food and poured-over coffee.
Please join us as we remember and stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and North Africa.
Admission to the grounds and events is free.