Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Last Mass in Hagia Sophia

Ruins of church of St. Euphemia looking toward Hagia Sophia (click on photo to enlarge)

The Last Mass in Hagia Sophia

Anonymous Song of Lamentation

for the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Translated by Richard Stoneman

God rings the bells, earth rings the bells, the sky itself is ringing,

The Holy Wisdom, the great church, is ringing out the message,

Four hundred sounding boards sound out, and two and sixty bells,

For every bell there is a priest, for every priest a deacon.

To the left the emperor is singing, to the right the patriarch,

And all the columns tremble with the thunder of the chant.

And as the emperor began the hymns to the Cherubim,

A voice came down to them from the sky, from the archangel’s mouth:

"Cease the Cherubic hymn, and let the sacred objects bow;

Priests, take the holy things away, extinguish all the candles:

God’s Will has made our city now into a Turkish city.

But send a message to the West, and let them send three ships:

The first to take the cross, the second to remove the Gospel,

The third, the finest shall rescue for us our holy altar.

Lest it all to those dogs, and they defile it and dishonour it."

The Holy Virgin was distressed, the very icons wept.

"Be calm, beloved lady, be calm and do not weep for them

Though years, though centuries shall pass, they shall be yours again."

Excerpted from:

Greece in Poetry

Simoni Zafiropoulos, ed.

New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1993, p 70.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Egyptians Persecuted for Turning to Christ

By Gary Lane

For thousands of years, Egyptians have looked to the Nile River for their sustenance. It has provided them with fish to eat and water to irrigate their crops.
Now, in the 21st century, a growing number of Egyptians are searching for living water and a different type of bread.

Many non-believers are coming to Christ by means as diverse as dreams and visions and Christian television broadcasts. As their numbers have increased, so has the persecution against them. And Christians throughout the Middle East are on edge, worried that the violent reaction to the recent words of Pope Benedict may worsen during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Here in Egypt, some fear Christians may fall victim to attacks like the one that occurred last April in Alexandria.

Fakiha Atta tearfully recalls the incident that took the life of her 78-year-old husband Noshi. He failed to return home after a Friday morning church service. She sent her youngest son, Maher, back to the church to fetch him.

When Maher arrived at the church, he noticed a pool of blood at the entrance and a trail of blood leading from the church up the hospital steps next door.

He ran to the hospital emergency room, where he saw doctors and nurses treating a number of church members in blood-soaked clothes. A doctor told Maher that the injured Christians had been stabbed during an attack at the church. Maher says he was shocked after the doctor led him to his deceased father’s bedside.
He told this reporter that no one could possibly know how he felt after seeing his father’s wounds. He says he suffered a mix of emotions—astonishment, sorrow and pain.

Maher wept uncontrollably and wondered how anyone could have murdered his father. His father had no enemies and was loved by everyone.
The Atta Girgis family learned a Muslim radical wielding two long knives stormed into the entrance of the church and stabbed several people while shouting, “god is great!” and “death to infidels!”

Fakiha had been married to Noshi for more than 50 years. How did his murder affect her faith?

“It hasn’t hurt my faith... but, it has affected my life. I feel lonely all the time without my husband and that’s the most difficult part,” Fakiha said.

Christianity has existed in Egypt six centuries longer than Islam, yet Christians are only about 12 percent of the total population. Muslims are about 87 percent.
The country’s constitution gives preference to the Muslim majority, and Christians are often treated as second-class citizens.

Some Christian female teens have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam. Others have been lured or enticed into renouncing their Christian faith by promises of wealth and a more prosperous life as Muslims.

Such was the case for the daughter of peasant farmer Saber Sabeh Gadallah.
As the late autumn sun set over the fields of El Minya, Egypt, farmer Gadallah placed his last few handfuls of hay onto a donkey cart and walked slowly back to his house. The teenage son of his Muslim neighbor asked to purchase some hay. A fatigued Saber instructed his 16-year-old daughter Suzanne to go and fetch the hay from the backyard. She never returned.

Saber explains how an official responded when he went to the police station to file a missing person report. “He slapped my face”, Saber said. “And he yelled, what do you want us to do, put a guard at your house 24 hours per day?”

Saber believes Suzanne was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married. Though police may know Suzanne’s location, they have refused to reveal her whereabouts to her parents.

“She’d never do anything like this willingly. She’s very kind, innocent and respectful of her parents,” explained Saber. “If she did this willingly, why will they not let me ask her in person?” Saber says his family has been torn apart. All he wants is for the truth to be revealed.

This former Muslim, we will call her Rachel, says she came to Christ after she fell in love and married a Christian man. We’ve hidden her identity to protect her from attack.

Her family doesn’t know she married a Christian or that she has left the Islamic faith. She is now in hiding because she says family members will murder her if they find out.

It is written in the Koran that they must kill me and take my child,” Rachel said. “They would do it.”

While Egyptian Christians say they expect many trials in the days ahead, their faith is strengthened through sorrow and tears. And some like Rachel say they know God is with them in the midst of their suffering.

Rachel said, “The Lord tells us He cares for the sparrows… just think how much more He cares for us!”