By Matthew Wilkinson

Last October, St. Michael’s Church held an event called Evensong for the Persecuted Church. Songs from different areas of the persecuted church in the Middle East were sung, in the context of the Anglican service of Choral Evensong. A speaker, His Grace Bishop Youssef, a bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church, came to speak about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. He prayed, preached and answered questions in a formal question-and-answer session after the service.

 

This year, on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m., St. Michael’s Church will hold another Evensong for the Persecuted Church. They will sing music ranging from Syriac, Coptic and Armenian chant to Anglican choral settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis. A retired archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Very Reverend John Meno, will come and speak about the persecution facing Christians in Syria and Iraq.

The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the most persecuted churches in the Middle East. When the public hears stories of ISIS decapitating Christians in Iraq and Syria, the largest majority of these belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church. The next largest Christian minorities include the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, the Maronite Catholics, the Melkite Catholics, the Coptic Orthodox and the Assyrian Church of the East. However, all religious minorities are ubiquitously persecuted, from Anglicans and evangelicals to the Yazidi sect in Iraq (an ancient Persian religion). Islamic radicals, including ISIS and the rebels in Syria, do not discriminate with their hate and persecution.

Lamentably, the United States has done little to nothing about mitigating these massacres and tragedies. The Syriac Orthodox felt relative asylum underneath Assad and have been vehemently opposed to the Western-backed coup since the beginning. The funding of “moderate rebels” (or “freedom fighters” in the words of Sen. John McCain) has only exacerbated the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq. These “moderates” have been proven to work indiscriminately alongside organizations such as Jabat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda and ISIS, who have been caught red-handed crucifying Orthodox, decapitating children, blowing up residences and promoting terror.

Former Defense Intelligence Agency head Gen. Michael Flynn admitted in a public interview that the U.S. intentionally facilitated the rise of ISIS to promote American interests in Syria. This is confirmed by the recently redacted 2012 DIA document that stated, “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [Al- Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” It further states: “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria … and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Our speaker from last year, His Grace Bishop Youssef — although hesitant to affirm any dogmatic geopolitical stance — stated in an interview, “It is sad that a big country and nation like the U.S. that claims all the time that they support minorities and democracy is doing these things. They are not supporting democracy or minorities. They are actually supporting their own interests in the Middle East ... It is unexpected from a great nation like the U.S. which was founded upon Christian principles and by people fleeing from religious persecution.”

Yet their difficulties transcend their martyrdom in their home countries. Many cannot obtain visas to immigrate to safer countries. Some youth try to flee illegally and die in the process. Those who do have the rare chance of immigrating to places like the U.S. (which has a painstakingly laborious immigration process) can not always get work permits and struggle to live. Additionally, many professionals’ accreditations do not transfer. Many Coptic and Syriac doctors, surgeons and professors cannot find similar work in the U.S. and thus their self-confidence is affected. Furthermore, as His Grace pointed out, there are not enough priests and churches to accommodate all of those travelling to America.

This information is moving, but what can we do? First, pray for the salvation of ISIS, for the protection of the refugees and the persecuted, for the repentance of American leaders and for opportunities to serve. Second, hold the U.S. government responsible for their inadvertent support of war crimes. Contact your congressmen and make your voice known. Third, go out of your way to make the connections with local Christian refugees. They need help finding jobs, getting visas for their families and getting established. Fourth, simply be informed. Because the media does not shed much light on this issue, we must research ourselves. Read news articles from different sources and look at organizations like the Iraqi Christian Council.

Fifth, one thing mentioned by Bishop Youssef that is exceedingly helpful to these communities, is to allow them to hold services in your church building on Saturdays. Many Copts and Syriac travel hundreds of miles on a weekly basis to attend services. Simply opening up some space for them to worship on a Friday or Saturday until they have enough support to become independent is not only one of the kindest things that can be done, but will also help create relationships with the community. Creating these relationships organically facilitates opportunities to further serve them.

Finally, holding events, such as the Evensong for the Persecuted Church, just to make people aware of the tragedies these people are facing and to pray for them is helpful. Please come and visit us on for the Evensong for the Persecuted Church at St. Michael’s Church, 71 Broad St.

Matthew Wilkinson is the music director and organist at St. Michael’s Church; he may be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

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