Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 started out like any other day for Fr. Basilios Nassar of the Greek Orthodox Church in Syria. He was working in the diocese office when he received a phone call that one of his parishioners had been shot and was in need of aid. As any priest would do, Fr. Basilios rushed to the side of his wounded parishioner. Fr. Basilios was shot twice while rendering aid to a dying man. Fr. Basilios was shot in the chest and in the right armpit. Immediately another priest who was with him, Fr. Panteleimon Isa, dragged his bloody body to a nearby building to save him, but the martyr for Christ Fr. Basilios was dead within 30 minutes from hemorrhaging. His funeral took place Jan. 26th in the Church of Saint George in Hama. The blessed Fr. Basilios was born in 1982 in the village of Kfarmpo in Hama and was a graduate of the Theological School of Balamand. He was also a teacher of Byzantine Music in the Saint Kosmas the Melodist school which he founded in the Metropolis.
On Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 I had the high honor of preaching at St. Mary and St. Mena Coptic Orthodox Church in Hope, Rhode Island. The church was hosting the Rhode Island Council of Churches Week of Christian Unity service. During the service those of us in attendance were brought up to date on the situation of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East. Christians like Fr. Basilios and others are murdered each and every day just for being Christians. Christians are forced to pay an extremely high religious tax that is forcing many of them to leave their native lands. For many the situation is grim and they face leaving the countries of their births forever or certain death.
Last week I wrote about the change of religious freedom in America. It seems that over the last few years being a Christian in mainstream America has become very unpopular. But last night, sitting in that church listening to the stories and seeing the images of Christians crushed by tanks and shot for just being a Christian, I thanked God I live in America. We have no idea what it means to be persecuted for that we believe!
Yes, prayer has been removed from the public schools, and perhaps your town can no longer display the manger scene on the lawn of Town Hall. But all of that seems petty when stacked up against the murder of Christians in the Middle East.
A few weeks ago the press was having a field day with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Mr. Tebow lives his faith out loud and he is not ashamed by what he believes in. It is not my particular brand of Christianity but he has real guts to kneel down in front of millions of people and pray. I don't know what he is praying for and I don't care, but I was embarrassed that he was doing what I should be doing. Tim Tebow made me think long and hard about how I live my Christian life, and how I should be living my Christian life. If that was Egypt or Syria or Iraq Tim Tebow would have been shot on the spot.
In my sermon for the unity service I challenged those in attendance to do something. I reminded them that St. James tells us that faith without works is a dead faith and that we need to express that faith, that love of God, by loving our neighbor, even one that is half way around the world. I told them that I was reminded recently that the first word of the Great Commission is "go." "Go into the entire world..." Matthew 28:16-20. We have to go and help our brothers and sisters with our prayers but also with our actions.
Sitting there in that church, surrounded by Christians of various denominations I realized that we do not agree on many issues related to theology and the practice of our faith. Many of us are miles apart on moral issues and the like. But in that place, at that hour we spoke as one voice in condemning the murder of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and pledged to try and make a difference.
Sometimes it feels like sticking your finger in the dam while other holes pop open. But I would much rather try and stop the water than stand back and watch it run past me.
I pray this is something that all Christians can agree on; the time to act is now!