Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Stories of Modern Martyrdom in an Ancient Christian Land

(AFM) - Introducing an upcoming new book release by Ancient Faith Publications, set for availability in November 2021. Syria Crucified: Stories of Modern Martyrdom in an Ancient Christian Land is written by Orthodox Christian authors Zachary Wingerd and Brad Hoff, and importantly is the first ever book to detail the plight of Syria’s Christians during the past ten years of tragic war. The urgency of their continued suffering even as the war has largely fallen out of media headlines and global consciousness drives the vision and message of this book. 

Syria Crucified is an engaging compilation of personal stories representing Orthodox Christian experiences, including eyewitness accounts of martyrdom, deepening prayer and closeness to Christ amid hardships, as well as lives of Syrians who are modern “living confessors” of the faith through their sufferings and patient endurance. 

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 3:

“They Invaded as Wolves but Left as Little Lambs” 

During the spring and summer months prior to the war, Cherubim Monastery was known for hosting Christian youth camps and church schools in Saidnaya. As it began to come under more and more intense rocket and mortar fire, the Abbot of the St. George brotherhood, Archimandrite John Talli, told the monks at Cherubim they must take shelter at the more secure St. George Monastery in the village below. The townspeople testify that during that time Archimandrite John refused to leave. 
Cherubim Monastery has a church with Roman columns lining the portico that dates to at least the third century. It is so old that it was initially converted by Syrian Christians from a pagan temple. At one point, government tanks were stationed directly on the Cherubim Monastery complex, which is situ¬ated at 6,500 feet above sea level. During repeated attempts by jihadists to storm it, shoulder-fired missiles rained down on one of the oldest churches in Christendom. “It was very bad,” Fr. Bashar said of those harrowing years. 

Archimandrite John, still currently the abbot of both St. George and Cherubim monasteries, allowed us to interview him. He gave us the following detailed account of how his monasteries were thrust into the center of the conflict: 
On May 19, 2013, the Free Syrian Army entered Cherubim Monastery. The invaders were Syrian, as at that early time there was no ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra there. Around eighty fighters forced their way into the monastery at about two in the morn¬ing and they asked, “Where is the place you hide your weap¬ons?” The monks said, “Our weapons are the kind you can’t hold in your hands.” They laughed at us. “What are you saying?” the militants questioned. The monks responded, “Because our weapons are our prayers, and we pray for everybody, we don’t just pray for ourselves.” The armed men were both making fun of us and were shocked at the same time. Then they aggressively searched the monastery, and of course they didn’t find any weapons. 
Abbot John noted that throughout the ordeal the FSA fighters had their rifles pointed at the monks. He continued to recount: 
Then they asked, “Where is your safe that has money?” 

But we said, “We are very poor,” but they looked anyway and they didn’t find much money. They then broke down the door of my office and searched everything there, but couldn’t find anything of value, because we monks live in a simple way. All of the monks dealing with them did not act fearful but were treating them in a nice way. The fighters were caught off guard by the monks’ lack of fear and how kind they were treating the invaders. 

After an hour and a half occupying the monastery, they told us, “We are hungry, what do you have?” Thank God we had a jar of food and some bread, and we made them sandwiches and some tea. They ate and drank the tea and saw the monks were serving them in a kind, pleasant way, without being fearful. 

This is our nature—we respond to people with love. So they became a little more relaxed and started for the first time speaking in a nice way with questions like, “How do you live? What do you do?” out of curiosity. At that point they had been there more than two hours. When they realized there was noth¬ing more they wanted, they stopped pointing their weapons at us. Their way of talking also continued to change from less threatening to calm. So they entered the monastery as violent fighters but ended up feeling like guests. Before they left they wanted to take a picture with us, so they took a few pictures and they left happy having met us. They came in as wolves and they left as little lambs.”

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