No Merry Eastern Orthodox Christmas in Muslim countries
For Christians such as Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Copts and others who retained the Julian calendar for the dates of their holidays, today is Christmas and many are celebrating traditionally, joyfully. But not in Egypt where gunmen killed two policemen guarding a Coptic Church over 100 miles from Cairo.
And why were the Egyptian police guarding the church? Although many have fled, complaining of terror, discrimination, forced conversions to Islam and even child and female abductions for forced marriages, it is thought that approximately 10% of Egypt's population is Christian.
Assaults on Christians have stepped up in Egypt since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.
A wave of attacks in August 2013 left dozens of churches destroyed, burned or looted, including churches in Minya. Christian homes and businesses were also targeted. The wave of anti-Christian violence followed the breakup by security forces of two sit-in protests by Morsi’s supporters, an operation that killed hundreds.
Egypt’s Christian minority has also complained of a rise in kidnappings, armed robberies and assaults over the past three years, after the country was plunged into turmoil by the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Security forces have faced a series of deadly militant attacks since Morsi was overthrown.
Islamists claim that Egypt’s Christians played a disproportionately large role in the mass protests that preceded Morsi’s ouster. The Copts, who are mostly members of the Orthodox church, one of Christendom’s oldest, were heavily invested in the anti-Morsi movement in the hope of gaining equal rights with their Muslim compatriots after his removal.
The plight of Christians in other Muslim lands, such as Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria and now Syria is equally dangerousand many are fleeing to Europe, North America, South America and Australia if they can, leaving behind everything, watching helplessly as their sacred places are looted and destroyed.
But in Turkey, there is good news/bad news for Christians. For the first time since the end of the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago, Muslim Turkey has authorized the construction of a new church.
An impetus for 99% nominally Muslim Turkey to do this, for its very small Syriac Christian community, is its desire to join the European Union.
Turkey, which once had large Christian minorities, is now 99 percent Muslim and critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have accused it of trying to Islamicise its officially secular society.
However, as part of its bid to join the European Union, Ankara has made efforts to widen minority rights and return some seized property as well as restore churches, monasteries and synagogues.
Christians now make up less than 100,000 of Turkey's population of 76 million and are sometimes the target of attacks. (snip)
The country's ancient Syriac minority, which now numbers less than 20,000, live mostly in the southeast and tend to be either affiliated to the Orthodox or Catholic churches.
But their numbers have swollen in recent years by thousands of Syriac refugees first forced out of Iraq by war and sectarian violence and later by others fleeing the fighting in Syria.
During his visit to Turkey in November, Pope Francis denounced what he termed the current wave of "Christianophobia" in the Middle East, accusing Islamist radicals of "hunting" Christians.
The various Syriac churches are among the oldest surviving Christian denominations, and use Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, in their services.
In Nigeria, in addition to slaughtering thousands, thousands of churches have been destroyed by the Muslim terror group Boko Haram.
In just two months, from August to October, nearly 200 Christian churches were destroyed in Nigeria by the Islamic organization Boko Haram and its Muslim allies, after their capture of towns and villages in the north-eastern states of Borno and Adamawa. In the words of Reverend Gideon Obasogie, the director of Catholic Social Communication of Maiduguri Diocese in Borno State: "The group's seizure of territory in both states has seen 185 churches torched and over 190,000 people displaced by their insurgency."
Obasogie added that Boko Haram's "ransacking and torching" of churches was "sad, heart-aching and potentially dangerous to the territorial integrity and common good of Nigeria.... Our priests are displaced, while citizens... are counting their losses and regrets as they have been reduced to the status of Internally Displaced Persons [IDP]. Where is the freedom?... Life is really terribly difficult."
In 2011, hundreds of Christians were killed and 430 churches destroyed or damaged in Nigeria by Boko Haram. In 2012, 900 Christians were slaughtered and an unknown number of churches destroyed. In 2013, 612 Christians were slaughtered and approximately 300 churches destroyed. (snip)
This suggests that in the last four years alone, approximately 1,000 Christian churches have been destroyed by Boko Haram and its Muslim sympathizers in a nation that is approximately half Christian half Muslim.
Moreover, according to an October Human Rights Watch report, Boko Haram has so far been responsible for killing 2,053 people in 2014—a number that likely exceeds the previous four years put together.
Sadly, not a Merry Orthodox Christmas for too many.