Archive for February, 2015

How could it have happened?

February 19th, 2015    |    No Comments »

What follows is a message of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, on the persecution of Coptic Christians in the Middle East. Diocesan parishes will be conducting a special plate collection on Sunday, February 22, for the families of the 21 martyrs; all proceeds will be disbursed by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York and New England. Please consider donating on Sunday, or donate now by clicking here (please direct your online donation to “Families of Coptic Christian Martyrs”).


How could it have happened?

How could such evil and hatred prevail? How could the innocent be made to suffer so greatly? How could the world turn a blind eye and let it proceed?

We Armenians know these questions all too well.  In this 100th year of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, they are the questions we will visit—and revisit—as matters of history, and as part of our century-long quest for justice and understanding.

But we could hardly have anticipated that we would find ourselves asking the same questions about an event happening in our own day—reported on the news right before our eyes.

We were shocked this week by a photograph of 21 Coptic Christians, bound and kneeling in a line, with dagger-wielding killers behind them—killers who later bragged of their deed, and advertised the grisly details to the world.

For Armenian Christians, every one of us in the world looked upon that image with the same horrifying thought: That this is the story of our own people, from a century ago.  This is the same inhumanity we suffered.

Some of us could even identify old photographs from Ottoman Turkey, of Armenian Christians bound and awaiting mutilation at the hands of fanatical monsters; photos which exactly correspond to the images released this week by the terror organization calling itself the Islamic State.  In 100 years, only the technology has changed, from photography to digital recording; the quality of barbarity remains the same.  The same religious hatred that drove the Turks to torment our people a century ago in the name of “cleansing” Anatolia, is recognizable in these successors of 2015.

How could it have happened?

Amid all the questions, we received one answer, at least.  It came in response to the question, “Surely the world of today—100 years after the massacres of our people—would never allow such atrocities to happen again?”

But the answer is bitter to contemplate: for the world did allow it happen.  And having happened, will the world’s great powers now heed the lessons of 1915, and respond to this atrocity in a determined way, so that it will not happen again?

We cannot say.  But we can say that the persecution of Christians in the Mideast and elsewhere is not a new story.  It has been percolating for years now.  And while each new atrocity receives official statements of sympathy and anger from world leaders, the movement of persecution, destruction, death—genocide—continues, and escalates.  The list of outrages in Syria, Iraq, our own enclave of Kessab, and now Libya, grows ever longer, and gets worse with every instance.

Yet among global leaders, it fell to His Holiness Pope Francis to state plainly what was clear to anyone with any knowledge of history: that the 21 Coptic Christians are martyrs—struck down because of their adherence to the faith of Jesus Christ.  We should add that one day, perhaps soon, those 21 Coptic Christians will be acknowledged alongside the 40 Armenian martyrs of Sepastia, the 1,036 martyrs of Avarayr, the untold thousands of martyrs whose lives were shed in the Genocide.

Parishes of the Eastern Diocese will offer the requiem prayer this Sunday, February 22, for the souls of the 21 Coptic martyrs—and for all the Christians of the Middle East who have lost their lives in the madness and barbarity of these long, bitter days.

And on April 23, as we welcome the long-awaited canonization of our Genocide martyrs, let us—as our first prayer to these newly-crowned saints—ask them to intercede for their 21 Coptic Christian brothers, who joined them this week in Christian martyrdom, and will surely join them one day in our Lord’s everlasting kingdom.

With prayers,

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate