Winter holidays in the midst of Arab Spring
“Christ is born, glorify Him… sing unto the Lord all the earth and joyfully praise Him all ye nations for He is glorified!”
It’s the liturgical song that expresses the joy of the Church that our Christ Savior was born. The joy that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. A joy that we all felt and we mostly lived it liturgically, ecclesiastically, Eucharistically – in the great mystery of the Divine Liturgy. We could say that is something normal and that is how our ancestors lived. In our nation, yes, it’s normal. But unfortunately not all Christians had the holy peace that we’ve all enjoyed at Christmas.
Every time the Gospel is read, on the Sunday after the Nativity of our Lord, we are presented with a family [the Holy family of the Virgin Mary and righteous Joseph] in the Middle East, fleeing [with the baby Jesus] from the human hatred [of Herod]. From infancy, the Holy Child experienced suffering. From the cradle, He began to bear His Cross. But He wasn’t alone… Immediately it followed the 14,000 innocents, the first martyrs of the Church – the infants. And the series of this genocide continues until today…
This Christmas feast, in the home’ land of the Christ Child, in the Middle East, Christians celebrated it – with tears. Tears for the loved ones who have died, tears for the many which cannot be found, tears for their churches and their cemeteries, tears that Christ was born in a world too cruel.
Tears began to flow starting with the eve of the great feast, while in our country, children brought the good news. On December 24, 2013 during Vespers in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, a church was mined. 26 Christians that were praying in the church have died and 38 were injured. At the same time, in the Athorien plaza of the same city, two bombs targeted a cafe owned by a Christian family. 11 more dead and 21 wounded were added to those murdered in the church.
In Egypt, a little after midnight on December 26, during the Divine Liturgy, a bomb exploded in the nave of the Coptic church: Abba Anthony. There, 23 martyrs were counted and about a hundred were injured. According to the eyewitnesses, “there were body parts [of those martyred] spread everywhere, on the streets, outside the church and even in the Holy Altar. The dead were placed before the altar, covered with newspapers and the vigil continued… ” The eyewitnesses also attested that “the security forces withdrew an hour before the bombing of the church.”
These may seem to us like events from a parallel world. But in fact they were acts of ordinary Muslims, trained by a series of fanatical clerics. And if they were attributed to the rebels, we must say that there were also government orders. In most Arab countries, the Muslim government leaders have passed law bills that prohibit Christian liturgical worship during the period of December 6, 2013 to January 7, 2014.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a government decision was instituted that ‘recommends’: “the local Christian churches to reduce the pomp for the celebrations of Christmas and New Year, in order not to disturb the days of mourning and self-flagellation of the Shiite Muslims.”
In Iraq, some teachers from the elementary schools in Baghdad and Mosul have scheduled final exams on December 25, forcing Christian students to attend school on the day of the Nativity. Some Muslim clerics in their sermons insisted that to tell someone Merry Christmas is worse than fornication . . . and even worse than murder!
At home, we enjoyed the caroling, the lights and the Christmas tree, we attended church and we extended this joy into our family homes. With or without the snow we felt it as a magic winter. We lived the holidays, as we desired.
In the Middle East however, the winter continued with the Arab Spring, which brought tears and pain. But Christ was also born for them. Perhaps more than He was for us! That He may bring comfort to their souls. There, were the carols were absent, the holy angels sang instead: “Christ is born, glorify Him … sing the Lord all ye nations and joyfully praise Him, for He is glorified!”