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 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 States.
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 already.