Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Special Edition: Christian Persecution in The Middle East

Volume 4 No. 191 January 21, 2014

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Church was set to fire in Egypt (2013)
Looted church in Syria (2013)
Destruction and Desecration of Churches in the Middle East

Top: A church is set to fire in Egypt
Bottom: A church in Syria after looting.
All valuables are taken and the holy objects were desecrated.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

When Jesus said, "you have to carry the cross and follow me" and "you will face tribulations in this world; but remember that I have overcome them (so you can)", I do not think people in Syria had any clue how hard that cross was going to be. ...

2. 2014 The World Watch List for Christian Persecution (WWL)

Top 25 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is the most severe for 2014 as reported by Open Doors International. ...

3. How Can We Celebrate When Our People Are Suffering? by HH Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

How can you celebrate this Christmas and New Year with all the happiness when our beloved Archbishops Their Eminences Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Mor Paulose Yazgi are abducted since last April and we lack any kind of true information about them? ...

4. Christian Courage in Syria

According to ICC, The violence that has torn apart the country of Syria for nearly three years has taken more than 100,000 lives. As the stream of foreign Jihadist fighters continues to rise the dangers for Syrian Christians also is rising. Caught in between the two sides and with the increasing numbers of militants subscribing to a militant Islamic ideology, the situation looks even more dire for Christians. Here is a look at the abduction of our two bishops and the subsequent atrocities in Syria. ...

5. 450,000 Christian Syrians Displaced in Long-Term Crisis

As we know, there are 120,000 Syrians killed in the 3-year- long crisis, including Syrian Christians. Maybe the Christians among the killed amount to 1,000. There are also nine million people displaced inside and outside Syria, 450,000 of whom were Christians. ...

6. Orthodox Bishop Decries Largest Massacre of Syrian Christians

Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, told Fides news agency Nov. 4, 2013 that what happened in Sadad was "the most serious and largest massacre of Christians in Syria in the past two and a half years," and he decried the world's silence in the face of the atrocity. ...

7. Young Christian Killed and Beheaded by Jihadists in Syria

Islamist groups have killed and beheaded a young Christian man, seriously wounding another. The incident, which occurred on 8 January 2014, was reported to Fides by a priest in the diocese of Homs. The two, Firas Nader (29), and Fadi Matanius Mattah (34), were traveling by car from Homs to the Christian village of Marmarita. A group of five armed jihadists intercepted the vehicle and opened fire on the car. ...

8. Over 50,000 Books Burned in Christian Library in Lebanon Over Blasphemy Claim

American leaders denounced the burning of a Christian leader's library in Tripoli, Lebanon, last Friday night (Jan 3, 2014) as based on false pretenses and said it's a threat to religious liberty. The Friday night fire burned two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts in the Al-Saeh library owned by Greek Orthodox priest Ibrahim Surouj, RT reported. ...

9. The End of Christian civilization in Syria?

As the intensity of the violence towards Christians escalates in Syria, many are beginning to recognize the impact of religious identity on the conflict. "It is believed that religious wars are a matter of the past. But they have become a matter of the past only for those western politicians that are not paying attention to them,” Eugeniy Satanovsky said. This is highlighted by the rising power extremists groups who have specifically declared their agenda is to establish Islamic law in Syria. ...

10. Christians Face Growing Intolerance, Persecution: Future Impact will be Troubling

The importance of the highlighting the religious persecution in the Middle East is slowly creeping into the national consciousness. It is an issue that needs to be confronted now, as its seeds will bear disastrous fruits in years to come. ...

11. Christianity is The Most Persecuted Religion - UK Parliament Was Told

The plight of Christians around the world was discussed in a three-hour debate at the Houses of Parliament in London on December 3, 2013.

Members of the House of Commons were told that the persecution of Christians is increasing, that one Christian is killed around every 11 minutes around the world, and that Christianity is the "most persecuted religion globally". ...

12. Prince Charles Criticizes 'Organized Persecution of Middle East Christians'

Echoing the recent words of Louis Raphael I Sako, the Archbishop of Baghdad, the Prince Charles added that the decline of Christians in the region represents a "major blow to peace, as Christians are part of the fabric of society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities". ...

13. All Shrines of Ma'loula Destroyed or Desecrated

A radical Jabhat al-Nusra "opposition" group, which occupied the small Christian town of Ma'loula in Syria in the last months of 2013, desecrated absolutely all shrines of the town, reports al Hadas portal with the reference to materials of the al Akhbar Lebanese newspaper.

According to evidence of eyewitnesses who fled from Ma'loula during the latest warfare in the region, members of al Nusra tried to change the religious and architectural-historical look of the ancient Christian town entirely: completely destroying some churches, the militants brought down all bells from other ones...

14. Twelve Nuns 'Abducted' As Rebels Recapture Maaloula, Syria

The Vatican has reported that 12 nuns were abducted as opposition rebels captured Syria's historically Christian town of Maaloula on December 2, 2013. ...

15. Poem: Weep, O Children of Men!

Weep for all who must enter the trial
The test of faith, the refiner’s fire.
…but weep not forever!

For dawn will come, light will conquer, a new Sun will rise.
And all that was good, and true, and beautiful
Will breathe new breath, and be given to sons again. ...

16. Why Christians Are Crucial to the Middle East's Future

An interview with Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, provides important insight into why Christians play such an important role in the Middle East and how the promotion of religious freedom and the protection of Christians are in the best interests of all peoples in the Middle East, as well as in the West. ...

17. Ayaan Hirsi Ali Breaks the Media Silence on Anti-Christian Persecution

Muslim violence against Christians is on the rise in many areas; Christians in Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, northern Nigeria, and a number of other places have lost the protection of their societies. Ali comments:

This is especially so in countries with growing radical Islamist movements. In those nations, vigilantes often feel they can act with impunity - and government inaction often proves them right. The old idea of the Ottoman Turks - that non-Muslims in Muslim societies deserve protection (albeit as second-class citizens) - has all but vanished from wide swaths of the Islamic world, and increasingly the result is bloodshed and oppression. ...

18. Where is God At Times Like These? A Meditation in The Wake of a Violent Atrocity

One of the great mysteries to the believer and non-believer alike is the mystery of evil and suffering. If there is a God who is omnipotent and omniscient how can he tolerate evil, injustice, and suffering of the innocent? Where was God when the shootings in Connecticut occurred? Where is God when a young girl is raped, when genocide is committed, when evil men hatch their plots? Why Did God even conceive the evil ones, and let them be born? ...

19. Being Faithful Does Not Give Us Immunity From Suffering

Occasionally, I come across a sermon by a popular preacher teaching that the Bible promises God's followers a life free from misfortune. Well, I'm not sure what Bible they're reading because my Bible doesn't say that.

The truth is we live in a sinful world. And as I flip through the Bible or look at history, I see that it's often the most faithful who face the roughest challenges in life. ...

20. Blessed Are the Persecuted

Blessed are those who are persecuted. It is a hard pill to swallow. It seems backwards to think about being happy while being persecuted. It seems unnatural to think about rejoicing or feeling blessed while being threatened for beliefs. The biggest persecution I have faced due to my faith are people disagreeing with me. Never have I been threatened. ...

21. About Malankara World

Foreword
It is difficult to imagine the sufferings our fellow Christians are undergoing in Middle East, especially in Syria. Inspired by the pain in our Holy Father's Christmas Message and HH's concern for his flocks, I wanted to bring out a special on Christian Persecution in Middle East. We had a special edition before (Issue 144 released on May 23, 2013) and had several articles on the happenings in Egypt and Syria in our Malankara World Journal Issues since then. But nothing prepared me for the shock and awe I have experienced when I started my deep research on uncovering the true situation in the Middle East. As is well known, the western media just ignores the Christian Persecution. Ditto the US Government - who funds the people who perpetrate this massacre. Looks like we have to go it alone.

When Jesus said, "you have to carry the cross and follow me" and "you will face tribulations in this world; but remember that I have overcome them (so you can)", I do not think people in Syria had any clue how hard that cross was going to be.

Here is a random sampling of what is going on:

  • Syria: Beheading of a Christian terrifies community.
  • Coptic Christian Children: Kidnapped and Killed for Cash.
  • Egypt: Coptic Christian children kidnapped for profit.
  • Two Christians beheaded in Idlib in Syria.
  • Syria: Christian Stabbed with Crucifix, Decapitated.
  • 50,000 plus Christian antiquity books were destroyed in Lebanon.
  • 73,455 dead, including 22,436 civilians in Syria in 2013 - the bloodiest year in the Syrian civil war. (The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)

Sadat, Syria, faced the Largest massacre of Christians in Syria. Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama stated,

"What happened in Sadad is the largest massacre of Christians in Syria and the second in the Middle East, after the one in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Iraq, in 2010"

Sadad was invaded by Islamist militias. "45 innocent civilians were martyred for no reason, and among them several women and children, many thrown into mass graves. Other civilians were threatened and terrorized. 30 were wounded and 10 are still missing. 1,500 families were held as hostages and human shields for a week of rebel occupation. About 2,500 families fled from Sadad, taking only their clothes. There is no electricity, water and telephone in the city. All the houses of Sadad were robbed and property looted. The churches are damaged and desecrated, deprived of old books and precious furniture. Schools, government buildings, municipal buildings have been destroyed, along with the post office, the hospital and the clinic".

This was followed by the story of abduction of 12 nuns from the town of Maaloula on December 2, 2013. They were believed to have been taken to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. The rebels have desecrated all shrines of the town, according to media reports. Eyewitnesses said that members of al Nusra tried to change the religious and architectural-historical look of the ancient Christian town entirely: completely destroying some churches, the militants brought down all bells from other ones. The fate of two other world-famous monuments of Ma'loula was no less tragic: extremists blew up the statue of Christ the Savior, which had stood at the entrance of St. Thecla Convent, as well as the statue of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, which had stood close to the Safir hotel, the latter of which served as the main shelter for Takfirists for many months. Many stolen artifacts are smuggled out of the country and are being sold in Europe.

Most of the Christians have fled the country and are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

so on it goes. ..

Whenever we are faced with evil like these atrocities, the question generally is asked, "how can a loving god do all these bad things?" Msgr. Charles Pope's article may shed some light into this. Malankara World Journal Special Supplement on suffering also will give you some insight into this. I personally do not believe that it is God who sends these bad things your way. God is Love. Like in case of Job, it is the work of Satan. But you can be sure that Jesus is there beside you giving a shoulder to lean on and to wipe the tears from your eyes when you face trials. We have a savior who cries when we face tribulations like when he cried when he went to the house of Lazar after his death. He is there to carry you when you are too weak to go alone. You can trust your savior.

Pope Francis recently talked about the Japanese Christians when they faced persecution. Pope said that the sacrament of baptism held them united for generations. This is what the pope said:

"The Christian community in Japan suffered severe persecution at the start of the 17th century. There were many martyrs, members of the clergy were expelled and thousands of faithful killed. No priest was left in Japan, they were all expelled. Then the community retreated into hiding, keeping the faith and prayer in seclusion. And when a child was born, the father or mother baptized him or her, because the faithful can baptize in certain circumstances. When, after roughly two and a half centuries, 250 years later, missionaries returned to Japan, thousands of Christians stepped out into the open and the Church was able to flourish again. They survived by the grace of Baptism! This is profound: the People of God transmits the faith, baptizes her children and goes forward. And they maintained, even in secret, a strong communal spirit, because their Baptism had made of them one single body in Christ: they were isolated and hidden, but they were always members of the People of God, members of the Church. Let us learn a great deal from this history!"

The same thing happened in Russian during the Communist Control when the religion was prohibited. We see that happening in China too. So, although there is a talk of extinction of Christian Church in Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, my belief is that we will survive this and will grow stronger. How many years it will take to do that, I do not know. For two thousand years kings and presidents have tried to destroy the Church. They could not. Our Lord has proclaimed, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her (The Church)." So far, it did not. There are going to be martyrs. When times are bad, it is the right time to proclaim our faith, "Jesus is Lord." During persecution, the faithful gets scattered and there are more opportunities to spread the gospel. Who knows! That may be God's plan.

In the mean time, our brothers and sisters in Syria and Middle East needs our help. We can do that in many ways. I am intrigued by the 555 Landing proposed by World Watch List. It is a very simple three-step challenge designed to inspire prayer, awareness, and financial support to impact the lives of persecuted Christians around the world.

5 Minutes
Set aside 5 minutes (or more) a week to pray for a persecuted country of your choice.

5 Friends
Share this challenge with 5 friends on your social networks and get them involved.

5 Dollars
Give $5 a month (or more) to make a deeper impact for suffering persecuted Christians.

People in Syria and in the Middle East needs our continued prayers and support.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

PS: You may also want to revisit Malankara World Journal Issue 144 - Theme: Christian Persecution Around The World

2014 The World Watch List for Christian Persecution (WWL)

Open Doors International compiles a list of countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is most severe. Listed below is the top 25 countries for 2014 (ODI list has 50 countries) and the comparable ranking in 2013.

Note that Syria has leapfrogged from #11 in 2013 to #3 in 2014, the biggest jump in the countries studied. Both Pakistan and Myanmar also had big increase in its rankings, although not at the severity as experienced by Syria.

Country 2014 Rank 2013 Rank
North Korea 1 1
Somalia 2 5
Syria 3 11
Iraq 4 4
Afghanistan 5 3
Saudi Arabia 6 2
Maldives 7 6
Pakistan 8 14
Iran 9 8
Yemen 10 9
Sudan 11 12
Eritrea 12 10
Libya 13 17
Nigeria 14 13
Uzbekistan 15 16
Central African
Republic
16 new
Ethiopia 17 15
Vietnam 18 21
Qatar 19 20
Turkmenistan 20 19
Laos 21 18
Egypt 22 25
Myanmar 23 32
Brunei 24 27
Colombia 25 46
India 28 31

With the exception of North Korea – ranked No. 1 for the 12th year in a row – every other country on the top 10 list had as its source of persecution, Islamic extremism. North Korea's persecution of Christians was due to communist oppression and dictatorial paranoia, explained Open Doors in its 2014 World Watch List. According to the report, the countries with the most extreme persecution besides North Korea are: Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen, respectively.

Open Doors', the Christian persecution watchdog, methodology involved measuring the level of Christian freedom found in five spheres of life: private, family, community, national, and church. A sixth sphere regarding degree of violence also factors in to the rankings.

Source: www.worldwatchlist.us

How Can We Celebrate When Our People Are Suffering?

by HH Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church

Patriarch HH Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church

No. E255/13 10-December-2013

Dearly beloved:

  • How can you celebrate this Christmas and New Year with all the happiness when our beloved Archbishops Their Eminences Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Mor Paulose Yazgi are abducted since last April and we lack any kind of true information about them?

  • Is it possible to celebrate Christmas by immersing in worldly enjoyments when twelve of the humble and saintly nuns of Ma'alula are kidnapped?

  • How will you welcome the New Year with gladness when thousands and thousands of your brothers and sisters in Syria including innocent children are brutally killed by the evil clutches of terrorism?

  • Isn't a time to recognize that going after name and fame or money and power is satanic when our brethren in Syria are living in fear and anxiety and expecting death at every moment?

  • Isn't it too late for us to stretch our helping hand to the victims of violence and to pray for world peace especially in the Middle East?

We are unable to express the pain in our heart for the innocent victims of terrorism and violence. Pray with humility and confidence that they may find solace in the Living Lord. Also beseech the intercession of all the martyrs and saints especially our Holy mother, who is ever-virgin, pure and spotless.

We, with pain in our heart for the wounded and with joy in Holy Spirit, extend our Apostolic Blessings to you. May the Grace of God be with you all.

[Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from the Christmas Message of our Holy Father issued on 10-December 2013. You can read the original message here]

Christian Courage in Syria

The pattern in Iraq is now being replicated in Syria's shadow war against Christians.

By Andrew Doran

[Editor's Note: According to ICC, The violence that has torn apart the country of Syria for nearly three years has taken more than 100,000 lives. As the stream of foreign Jihadist fighters continues to rise the dangers for Syrian Christians also is rising. Caught in between the two sides and with the increasing numbers of militants subscribing to a militant Islamic ideology, the situation looks even more dire for Christians. Here is a look at the abduction of our two bishops and the subsequent atrocities in Syria.]

Fathallah Kabud climbed behind the wheel of the car, keenly aware of the danger that lay ahead. Perhaps he thought only of the task immediately before him, the drive through the checkpoints of war-ravaged Aleppo, which might distract him from contemplating the stark reality that he and his passengers were going, unarmed, to negotiate with ruthless murderers. Or perhaps he thought of his family. Or perhaps Fathallah, a devout Christian and deacon, simply prayed. One can only speculate as to his thoughts, for these were his last moments on earth.

In the car with Fathallah were Bishop John Ibrahim and Bishop Boulos Yazigi. Bishop Yazigi, brother of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, had decided only hours before to join Bishop Ibrahim on this trip, an attempt to secure the release of two priests who had been kidnapped. Over the previous year, Bishop Ibrahim had negotiated the release of nearly two dozen hostages. Clergy had frequently been successful in Syria (as elsewhere in the Middle East) in negotiating the release of kidnapping victims - not only Christians but also Muslims, who often have as much to fear from the Islamist militants as do Christians.

The year before this fateful car ride, in the summer of 2012, the battle of Aleppo began. Foreign jihadists were already flocking to Syria, many of them war-hardened men from Central Asia and the Caucasus - among them Chechens who found in Syria a familiar maelstrom of blood and chaos in which they could thrive. The predominantly Islamist rebel factions are affiliated, ideologically if not organizationally, with al-Qaeda. These fighters are supported by the Sunni Gulf Arab states, which are eager to overthrow the Alawi regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran. They bring with them a new breed of barbarism.

By way of fear and a reputation for success, they have attracted young fighters to their ranks, frightening entire Free Syrian Army (FSA) units into abandoning their posts and weapons, which have now fallen into the hands of Islamists. The FSA commander fled the country altogether. The latest American experiment, which the FSA most assuredly was, has now failed abysmally. The U.S. subsequently made overtures to the Islamic Front, not yet designated a terrorist organization, only to be rejected by the Islamists. Assad's government has called the overtures "reprehensible." Ruthless sociopathic butchers who make Osama bin Laden appear civilized by comparison now dominate the rebel faction. Behind black masks, with affected religiosity and Arabic pseudonyms, they daily terrorize Syria's civilian population, Muslim and Christian alike.

It was into the hands of such men that Fathallah and the bishops were traveling. Unarmed, they went bound only by a sense of duty to the helpless kidnapping victims - an act of extraordinary courage that is difficult to comprehend.

According to one report, at the first checkpoint, manned by Syrian rebels from Aleppo, Fathallah and the bishops were permitted to pass. But moments later, a Suburban descended on them, cutting them off. Fathallah brought the car to a halt. Several men dressed in Central Asian attire got out and approached, brandishing Kalashnikov-series rifles. According to one account, none of the gunmen, allegedly all Chechens, even spoke Arabic. After several minutes, Fathallah was taken at gunpoint from the scene to an abandoned factory nearby. There, he was executed at gunpoint: another civilian casualty in Syria's brutal war. The fate of Bishop Ibrahim and Bishop Yazigi remains unknown.

The murder-kidnapping is another example in a pattern of systematic violence against Christians by Islamist militants that began in earnest in 2003. Human-rights advocate Nina Shea, who has served on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, has thoroughly documented this pattern. Shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, while many in Washington celebrated what seemed a sweeping victory, Shea issued a dire warning about Iraq's politically precarious situation and the danger to Iraq's vulnerable Christian minority. She has written since of the systematic "obliteration" of Iraq's Christians, especially the clergy. Last month, on Christmas day, nearly three dozen Christians were killed and dozens more wounded in an attack, part of the campaign in which approximately 800,000 Iraqi Christians have been driven out of the country over the past decade. (Iraq was home to more than a million Christians in 2003.) The pattern in Iraq is now being replicated in Syria, in what Shea has called "Syria's shadow war against Christians." It has been escalating since 2011.

Much as the historic Christian communities of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria share a common threat, so Muslims and Christians alike are targets of the extremists. As Egypt saw its churches and defenseless faithful targeted, so were Muslim faithful targeted by extremists in Iraq just years before. The sectarian violence continues to this day. The more that Christians and Muslims perceive this threat and unite in solidarity against it, the greater the challenge will be for the extremists. But the worst may still be ahead.

On December 1, 13 Greek Orthodox nuns were taken from Mar Takla Monastery in Maaloula, Syria, a Christian village near the Lebanese border north of Damascus, after it was overrun by the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra. "Most of the fighting is just over those mountains," says Kamal, a Lebanese man, pointing east toward the mountains, which separate Syria from Lebanon. "On the other side there is Maaloula and Yabrud and Aleppo." The nuns reportedly have been moved to the rebel-held town of Yabrud and are being held by al-Nusra there. Patriarch Yazigi has implored the international community to press for their release. A senior Lebanese official expressed optimism that the nuns might be released in the near future; there is little such hope for the bishops. "These are my friends," says Michel Constantin, director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association's regional office, which oversees the care of more than 16,000 Syrian Christian families. "We do not know if they are alive or even who has them."

Toward the conclusion of his recent book The Global War on Christians, reporter John Allen recounts the 2012 murder of a Syrian priest, Jamil Hadad. Father Hadad risked his life - not for the first time - to try to ransom a doctor from his village who had been kidnapped. On encountering the kidnappers, Father Hadad was, like the bishops in Aleppo, kidnapped and held for ransom. He was then tortured at some length, his eyes gouged out, before he was shot in the head. The doctor Father Hadad risked his life to save was a Muslim.

The name Fathallah means "open to God" and is common to Christians and Muslims alike. Also common to Christians and Muslims is the danger posed by the militant extremists of the Middle East. Many face down this threat with astounding fortitude. "There is a courage one derives from being in the presence of the Christians of the Middle East," a Catholic archbishop remarked to me last year. He himself had been targeted and nearly killed by terrorists and understood well the danger faced by clergy in that part of the world. He also understood well the courage of men like Fathallah - a courage that leaves the rest of us in awe.

About The Author:

Andrew Doran served on the executive secretariat of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State. He's working to raise awareness about the conditions of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Source: National Review

450,000 Christian Syrians Displaced in Long-Term Crisis
DAMASCUS, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- Syria's long-term crisis has displaced more than 450,000 Christian Syrians and killed more than a thousand of them, Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch and all East, told Xinhua in an interview on Thursday.

"As we know, there are 120,000 Syrians killed in the 3-year- long crisis, including Syrian Christians. Maybe the Christians among the killed amount to 1,000. There are also nine million people displaced inside and outside Syria, 450,000 of whom were Christians," Laham said.

The Patriarch's remarks came as the Syrian crisis is coming to its third year and the sectarian theme of the crisis could no longer hide itself with the strong presence of fighters from al- Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in several Syrian areas.

Syria's Christians, who take up about 10 percent in the country 's Sunni-majority population, have felt the pain of the protracted crisis, as their population has been subject to attacks by the radical rebels. The latest incident took place earlier this month, when radical jihadists fully controlled Syria's Christian town of Maaloula, north of the capital Damascus.

The armed radicals have fully controlled the town and started burning houses, the mainstream media said, adding that the rebels have also kidnapped 12 nuns from Mar Thecla Monastery, the largest monastery in that key historic area, which is one of the oldest cradles of Christianity in Syria.

Aside from the Christians, Syrians from the Druze and Alawite minorities, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, have also been subject to harsher treatment by the jihadi groups, whose leaders contended that they are protecting the majority Sunni population from the crackdown of the Syrian administration, whose top ranks belong to the Alawite minority.

In the interview, Laham said "there are 85 churches that have been destroyed, sabotaged, burnt and subject to systematic desecration by the Takfiri groups."

"The crisis has tragically targeted all the Syrians with all of their sects," he said.

Regarding the kidnapped nuns of Maloula and the two bishops, who have been kidnapped since eight months ago in northern Aleppo province, the top Patriarch said there was no news about them or the time of their release.

"Targeting high-profile Christian figures is aimed to disseminate fear among the Christians and push people to leave the country," he remarked.

Yet, with all of the sectarian tension the crisis has generated, Laham said "there is no civil war in Syria."

"Talks about the inter-fighting among the Syrians are not accurate. There are external parties that have been running the conflict. Those parties are more stronger than any opposition, so the issue is not purely Syrian but a war against Syria from the outside," he noted.

While blaming the conflict on foreign power, the Patriarch called for the Europeans and Arab countries to find a political solution to the crisis, saying "as part of our Christian role, we call for unity among the Arab nation because the bases of our success is to have a support from unity. Also, we call for a political European unity to find a solution and to push the Arab countries to respect and accept the solution for the Syrian crisis. So if an Arab-European consensus could be reached, it would press the opposition to unite and to go with the government to Geneva II peace conference."

Syrians' hopes are now pinned on the upcoming Geneva II conference aimed to start the political process and give a chance for recovering of the sinking economy. The conference, slated on January 22, is aimed at engaging warring Syrian parties to negotiate an end to the prolonged crisis.

Syria's Christians have showed support to the embattled President Bashar al-Assad whose administration has boasted itself as a defender of the minority groups in Syria, which consists of a remarkable melange of sects and beliefs.

Christians in Syria are quite well off and some even hold senior positions in the government. This might be one of the causes that have raised their concern over a possible government change.

Source: English.news.cn 2013-12-20 10:37:25

Orthodox Bishop Decries Largest Massacre of Syrian Christians
The worst massacre of Christians in Syria since the beginning of the country's internal conflict took place last week in the town of Sadad, north of Damascus.

Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, told Fides news agency Nov. 4, 2013 that what happened in Sadad was "the most serious and largest massacre of Christians in Syria in the past two and a half years," and he decried the world's silence in the face of the atrocity.

Islamist militias invaded the Christian town of Sadad last week which was then re-conquered by the Syrian army. "Forty-five innocent civilians were martyred for no reason, and among them several women and children, many thrown into mass graves," Metropolitan Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh said.

"Other civilians were threatened and terrorized, thirty were wounded and ten are still missing. For one week, 1,500 families were held as hostages and human shields, among them children, the elderly, the young, men and women."

He added that some fled on foot, travelling 8 km from Sadad to Al-Hafer to find refuge. "About 2,500 families fled from Sadad, taking only their clothes, due to the outbreak of fighting of armed groups and today they are refugees, scattered between Damascus, Homs, Fayrouza, Zaydal, Maskane, and Al-Fhayle".

The archbishop said there is currently no electricity, water or telephone links to the town and that "all the houses of Sadad were robbed and property looted."

"The churches are damaged and desecrated, deprived of old books and precious furniture," he continued. "Schools, government buildings, municipal buildings have been destroyed, along with the post office, the hospital and the clinic".

"What happened in Sadad is the largest massacre of Christians in Syria, and the second in the Middle East after the one that took place in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Iraq, in 2010".

The archbishop concluded: "We have cried out to the world for help but no one has listened to us. Where is the Christian conscience? Where is human consciousness? Where are my brothers? I think of all those who are suffering today in mourning and discomfort: We ask everyone to pray for us".

"There is a lump in the throat and burning in the heart for all that's happened in my metropolitanate and its poor suffering people," the archbishop continued.

Locals returned to Sadad Oct. 28, 2013 and began to repair the damage. Eyewitnesses say about 50 percent of the town has been destroyed.

Sadad is a small town of 15,000 people, most of whom are Syriac Orthodox Christians, located 160 km north of Damascus. It has 14 churches and a monastery with four priests.

Source: zenit.org (November 05, 2013) © Innovative Media Inc.

Young Christian Killed and Beheaded by Jihadists in Syria
Homs (Agenzia Fides) - Islamist groups have killed and beheaded a young Christian man, seriously wounding another. The incident, which occurred on 8 January 2014, was reported to Fides only now by a priest in the diocese of Homs. The two, Firas Nader (29), and Fadi Matanius Mattah (34), were traveling by car from Homs to the Christian village of Marmarita. A group of five armed jihadists intercepted the vehicle and opened fire on the car.

Upon reaching the car, militiamen, noting that Fadi was wearing a cross around his neck, beheaded him. They then took money and documents, leaving Firas on the ground wounded, believing he was already dead. Firas instead managed to escape, reaching the town of Almshtaeih on foot and was then transferred to the hospital in Tartou. Some of the faithful were able to recover the body of Mattah, bringing him to Marmarita, where the local Christian community expressed strong indignation for the horrible act carried out.

According to a statement sent to Fides by Aid to the Church in Need" (ACN), violence against Christians in Syria, is becoming "one of the worst persecutions endured by Christians in this part of the third millennium". According to the latest reports, more than 600,000 Christians - a third of the total Syrian faithful - are internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries. Christian leaders confirm the massive exodus of Christians from Syria, which could seriously jeopardize the future of Christians in the nation.

As ACN in Homs highlights, Marmarita and Hamat, the Syrian population, which includes many Christians, live in severe discomfort and without food, heating, shelter and medicine because of the bitter cold weather that has worsened the humanitarian crisis which exists due to the conflict.

Source: Agenzia Fides; 2014-01-16

Over 50,000 Books Burned in Christian Library in Lebanon Over Blasphemy Claim

by Tyler O'Neil

(Jan 7, 2014) American leaders denounced the burning of a Christian leader's library in Tripoli, Lebanon, last Friday night (Jan 3, 2014) as based on false pretenses and said it's a threat to religious liberty.

"The really bad news is that this is not out of the ordinary," Robert P. George, chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told The Christian Post in an interview on Monday. George emphasized the need to advocate for religious freedom across the world to prevent attacks like this one.

The Friday night fire burned two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts in the Al-Saeh library owned by Greek Orthodox priest Ibrahim Surouj, RT reported. The arsonists targeted Surouj due to an alleged pamphlet insulting the Prophet Mohammed was found in one of the library books. When Surouj met with Islamic leaders in the city, he stated that he had nothing to do with the pamphlet.

International Security Forces Brig. Imad Ayyoubi also denounced the connection. "Father Surouj has nothing to do with the article and the source of the website is from Denmark and was published on Jan. 7, 2010," Ayyoubi said, The Blaze reported. Hundreds of Lebanese citizens demonstrated Saturday in support of the priest.

"Flames of a violent hysteria against all perceived threats to Islam are spreading rapidly through the Muslim world today," Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, told CP on Monday.

The co-author of Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide, Shea traced the backlash to any perceived insult to Islam back to its sources. She denounced the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to "end its own worldwide campaign of stirring passions against religious insult."

Shea called on the OIC to change course entirely, urging the organization to "condemn the violence that is now waged against the Lebanon Christian library, and, even more critically, against the Christian minorities in all parts of the Arab world."

USCIRF's George touched on Lebanon's history of sectarian violence. "This goes all the way back to the Lebanese Civil War," from 1975 to 1990, the USCIRF chair explained. "If you travel in Lebanon, as I have, you will start noticing security checkpoints. The country is suffering acts of violence, and often religiously based acts of violence."

"Beirut itself was known as the Paris of the Middle East," George explained, hearkening back to a more peaceful era. "It was held up as a city where people of various faiths could live together in peace," the USCIRF chair recalled, listing the different faith traditions in Lebanon: Maronite Catholics, Roman Catholics, Sunni and Shia Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Antiochian Christians.

Despite this violence, George praised the country of Lebanon for rebuilding an ancient Jewish Synagogue. Nevertheless, he lamented the loss of the Jewish population, which is now "vanishingly small."

"We see the Middle East emptying of its historic Christian populations," the USCIRF chair explained. George even referred to his own relatives who fled from Syria. "My father's family is Syrian, from the ancient Antiochian Orthodox community," he explained. "They lived peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, they were able to make a life for themselves, and now they have fled."

"It's impossible for them to live in their country – they would be in complete fear," George said. He explained that the mission of USCIRF is to urge President Obama and his administration to make religious freedom a priority in foreign relations.

George argued that the responsibility of any government is to allow for religious freedom and to prevent and punish attacks against it. The government of Lebanon has a responsibility "to bring some amelioration to people who are being abused like this priest was abused," and to punish the perpetrators, he said.

But governments should not do this just to be on good terms with the United States. George argued that the economic and political success of a country depends on how it respects religious freedom. "If you want your country to flourish, you should establish religious freedom," he declared. "that's true for Lebanon, that's true for Syria, that's true for everywhere."

Source: Christian Post

The End of Christian civilization in Syria?

by Milena Faustova

The ousting of Christians from the countries of the Middle East is a sore spot of the modern world. Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria are in the midst of a civil war – these are only some of the countries where Christian civilization is currently being destroyed. Experts contemplate the issue of who benefits from this and whether Christianity has a chance to survive in the Middle East.

The Syrian city of Homs, the third in the country in terms of population, has almost completely lost its Christian population. Thousands have been killed and about a million have fled. The situation is similar in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and other cities. It is a real religious war, which is being carefully ignored by the world community, thinks Eugeniy Satanovsky, president of the Institute of Middle East:

"It is believed that religious wars are a matter of the past. But they have become a matter of the past only for those western politicians that are not paying attention to them. Religious wars are underway in Africa and in the Middle East. Syria is only one of the platforms of the rapid de-Christianization of that region. And since radical Islamists representing radical terrorist movements wage these wars, it is not in favor of the world community to interfere in them. Nobody has abandoned the double standards. Unlike the XIX century, when people in Europe were still worried about the genocide of Christians in Syria and Lebanon, today people just ignore it based on their economic and geopolitical interests".

Moreover, the open persecution Syria's Christian population is today more and more often becoming just a small coin in the civil war, which has been going on for three years. Last spring Islamists captured two high-ranking Orthodox metropolitans. One of them was a brother of the present Patriarch John X of Antioch. Up until now there is no clarity regarding the destiny of the two bishops. In early December some armed extremists took hostage Pelagia Sayyaf, the superior of the Saint Tecla Orthodox convent in Maaloula, together with several nuns. They are all still alive, but there are no guarantees of their release, says Nikolay Balashov, deputy chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

"It turned out that the rebels captured no less than 16 nuns. A few days after their capture a video shot by their captors appeared on the internet, which was showed to the viewers of the Arab Al Jazeera TV channel. In that video the nuns claimed that all was well with them and that they hoped to be set free soon. However, their facial expressions strongly contradicted the words they uttered. As far as we know, the Syrian government institutions are still negotiating with the armed group, which kidnapped the nuns. But the rebels demanded that many prisoners convicted for their terrorist activity or being accomplice to terrorists were set free from the country's prisons".

In Syria, Christian holy places are being erased from the face of the Earth. According to specialists, over 60 churches and monasteries have already been destroyed, many of which had had a history of almost two thousand years and had been unique monuments of world culture. Heads of all Christian churches of the world, including Russian Orthodox Church, are now actively urging for stopping the genocide of Christians in the Middle East and saving the Christian culture. The Russian authorities are also paying special attention to this issue, the Orthodox priest continues:

"In July 2013 heads and representatives of all Orthodox churches of the world gathered together during the celebration the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus in Moscow. In a joint document they expressed their point of view on the issue of the preservation of Christians in the Middle East, specifically in Syria. That document was passed onto Vladimir Putin, Russia's president. The actions of Russia's authorities regarding the conflict in the Middle East, specifically regarding the situation in Syria, bear their fruit. They have already succeeded in preventing a large-scale foreign intervention into the country, which would undoubtedly have led to great losses among the Christian population".

Together with the Russian Orthodox Church the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, the oldest non-governmental organization in Russia, provides humanitarian aid to the citizens of Syria in need. Since the beginning of this year we have already sent over 70 tons of humanitarian cargo to the region, said Elena Agapova, vice president of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, in her interview to the Voice of Russia.

"In March this year our Society decided to respond to the problem and provide help to the suffering people of Syria. We have sent humanitarian aid eight times. This past summer with our help two airplanes with aid of the Russian EMERCOM were sent to Latakia. Just recently, on December 10, we collected and shipped 10 tons of baby food, glucose and medication".

In October 2013 the Saint Paul and George International Foundation installed an unusual sculpture at one of the highest mountains in Syria called "I Came to Save the World". People say that the bronze monument of Jesus Christ blessing the world can be seen from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. It is a symbol of hope not only for peace in the entire Middle East region, but also for the salvation of the Christians and Christianity in that country.

Source: Voice of Russia 12/18/2013

Christians Face Growing Intolerance, Persecution: Future Impact will be Troubling

By Ken Starr, President and Chancellor of Baylor University

(December 16, 2013) In a recent speech at Georgetown University, a British cabinet minister said some startling things about Christians in the Middle East:

"Across the world, people are being singled out and hounded out simply for the faith they hold…. (Middle Eastern Christians) are rooted in their societies, adopting and even shaping local customs. Yet ... (a) mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is real danger that Christianity will become extinct."

Such a public expression of concern about Christians is unusual for a Western government official. This speech was particularly striking because it was delivered by a Muslim - Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Brit born of Pakistani parents. Warsi understands better than most the costs to the Middle East if Christians flee.

The silence of Western governments about this phenomenon and its primary cause – the rise of Islamist extremism – is at best short sighted. The Christian exodus represents not only a humanitarian crisis, but a looming national security problem for the West.

As Baroness Warsi notes, Christians have helped shape the cultures they are now fleeing. In Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, Christian communities have lived and worked for almost two millennia. If they continue to exit the region, or if they continue to be persecuted and repressed, the increasingly thin chances that Middle Eastern countries will develop into stable, peaceful societies, free of violent religious extremism, will virtually disappear.

The very concept of freedom, including religious freedom, has ancient Christian roots. Contrary to popular perceptions, the precursors for modern ideas of liberty are rooted in Jewish scripture and the writings of early Christians such as St. Paul, Tertullian and Lactantius. Notions of universal human dignity and freedom were developed by Medieval scholastics and Protestant reformers, and were first codified in the American founding. In the late second and early third centuries, Tertullian became the first thinker in history to use the phrase "religious liberty," and, furthermore, to argue that religious liberty is a human right belonging to all people regardless of class or creed. A hundred years after Tertullian’s invention of the concept, it formed the basis of the Edict of Milan of 313, which granted religious freedom to all sects throughout the Roman Empire.

Early Christians, such as the fourth-century Greek theologian Gregory of Nyssa, developed radical critiques of slavery and sexual coercion. In fact, according to Oklahoma historian Kyle Harpe, Gregory was the first person ever to have argued for the basic injustice of slavery. The same high view of human nature and freedom that inspired Gregory leads Coptic Christians in Egypt today to fight for the rights of all people in the current constitutional drafting process, including the rights of atheists. And it leads Christians in India - often joining with non-Christians - to battle against untouchability and the sexual enslavement of women and children.

Even the often-decried missionary activity of Christians in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America has encouraged economic growth, female literacy - a key sign of a successful society – and, in some cases, democracy itself. National University of Singapore political scientist Robert Woodberry argues that Protestant missionaries catalyzed the global spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. In fact, Woodberry draws on historical evidence and sophisticated statistical methods to prove that the presence of Protestant missionaries explains about half the progress toward democracy in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.

Of course, Christianity’s long story has been mixed. And other minorities also are subject to religious persecution around the world, including Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. But the persecution and flight of Christians deserves far more attention than it is getting by Western governments. Baroness Warsi should be applauded for her courage in speaking out.

The United States in particular should mount an aggressive diplomatic initiative to convince Middle Eastern societies that they must protect their Christian communities, and ensure that they become equal citizens in both law and culture. If those societies fail in this critical task, the results could be catastrophic – for the Christians themselves, and for the great causes of global peace, freedom and justice for all people.

Christianity is The Most Persecuted Religion - UK Parliament Was Told

MPs also hear that one Christian is killed every 11 minutes.

(Dec 04 2013) The plight of Christians around the world was discussed in a three-hour debate at the Houses of Parliament in London yesterday.

Members of the House of Commons were told that the persecution of Christians is increasing, that one Christian is killed around every 11 minutes around the world, and that Christianity is the "most persecuted religion globally".

A long list of countries in which life as a Christian is most difficult was discussed, including Syria, North Korea, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iraq and Egypt.

MP Jim Shannon said the persecution of Christians is "the biggest story in the world that has never been told".

He said that although the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are many countries in which these rights are not given.

Shannon alleged that 200 million Christians will be persecuted for their faith this year, while he said that 500 million live in "dangerous neighbourhoods".

He added that in Syria Christians are "caught between opposing sides in the conflict", and mentioned the "specific targeting" of Christian-dominated locations, such as Sadad and Maaloula.

MP Sammy Wilson said that in Syria, "50,000 Christians have been cleared from the city of Homs", while in Sudan two million Christians were killed by the regime over a 30-year period.

He added: "Within the last month, hundreds of people, from Nigeria to Eritrea to Kazakhstan to China, have been arrested and put in prison simply because of their faith, and when they go into prison they are denied due process. They are denied access to lawyers. They are sometimes even denied knowledge of the charges facing them. They can languish in prison for a long time and in horrible conditions… This is not only happening in Muslim countries. From Morocco to Pakistan, Christians in Muslim countries are under threat, but it happens elsewhere too."

The recent comments of Baroness Warsi at a lecture in Washington were echoed, including her assertion that "the parts of the world where Christianity first spread is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving, and those that are remaining feeling persecuted".

MP Nigel Dodds said that the "persecution of Christians is not new", but that it is "staggering" how many Christians are killed today.

In Iraq, he noted the words of Canon Andrew White, who had said that Christians are "frightened even to walk to church because they might come under attack. All the churches are targets… We used to have 1.5 million Christians, now we have probably only 200,000 left… There are more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than there are here".

Sir Edward Leigh said the remaining number of Christians in Iraq was likely to be closer to 600,000, but that this was still a shocking figure and that "things have become much worse since the invasion".

MP Rehman Chishti said: "I come from a Muslim background, and my father was an imam… I know it is absolutely right and proper to have a debate on the subject". He called the persecution "completely and utterly unacceptable" and "a very sad state of affairs".

He also quoted his "good friend" the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali: "He told me that the persecution of Christians was taking place in more than 130 of the 190 countries in the world at the moment".

During the debate, the oppression experienced by Christians in China and Malaysia were also highlighted and outlined. As the British Prime Minister is currently in China, MP David Rutley raised the issue of the sizeable Christian community in China, and asked about the potential establishment of a deeper inter-faith dialogue to engage the Chinese authorities with Christian groups.

Meanwhile, a UK-based organisation has claimed that the number of countries posing an extreme risk to the human rights of their populations has risen by 70 per cent in the past five years.

Risk analysis company Maplecroft (which researched 197 countries for its annual Human Rights Risk Atlas 2014) says that since 2008 the number has risen steeply from 20 to 34, predominantly comprised of countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Syria tops the list, followed by Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Source: worldwatchmonitor.org

Prince Charles Criticizes 'Organized Persecution of Middle East Christians'

Muslim-Christian relationship in danger of being 'destroyed', says Prince

(Dec 18 2013) The Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, has added his voice to those calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

After a visit to the London cathedral of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Prince Charles said he was "deeply troubled" by the "growing difficulties" faced by Christians in the region.

"It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants," he said.

Noting Christianity's roots in the region, the Prince observed that today the Middle East and North Africa have the lowest concentration of Christians in the world - just four per cent - and that this has "dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further".

He said that the effect of this was that "we all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition dating back 2,000 years begins to disappear".

Echoing the recent words of Louis Raphael I Sako, the Archbishop of Baghdad, the Prince added that the decline of Christians in the region represents a "major blow to peace, as Christians are part of the fabric of society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities".

"For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so - and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution - including to Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time," he said.

David Yakoub, from the beleaguered and once Christian-dominated Syrian town of Sadad, was reported to be close to tears as he pleaded with the Prince to "do something".

Earlier in the day at the UK Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, Prince Charles spoke to Huda Nassar, Middle East director for the Awareness Foundation.

"[Prince Charles] said it was heart-breaking what was going on in Syria, and that he's praying for peace," Huda told World Watch Monitor.

Last week Huda's brother, Nadim Nassar, the only Syrian Anglican priest, handed in to the UK Prime Minister a petition signed by over 300,000 people from 99 countries, on behalf of Syria's Christians.

The petition, co-ordinated by Open Doors International (which works through partner churches in Syria and Egypt, amongst other countries, to bring aid relief and development) was one of a number submitted around the world on Dec. 10, including to the UN Secretary-General and the Missions of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.

Source: www.worldwatchmonitor.org

All Shrines of Ma'loula Destroyed or Desecrated
A radical Jabhat al-Nusra "opposition" group, which occupied the small Christian town of Ma'loula in Syria in the last months of 2013, desecrated absolutely all shrines of the town, reports al Hadas portal with the reference to materials of the al Akhbar Lebanese newspaper.

According to evidence of eyewitnesses who fled from Ma'loula during the latest warfare in the region, members of al Nusra tried to change the religious and architectural-historical look of the ancient Christian town entirely: completely destroying some churches, the militants brought down all bells from other ones. The fate of two other world-famous monuments of Ma'loula was no less tragic: extremists blew up the statue of Christ the Savior, which had stood at the entrance of St. Thecla Convent, as well as the statue of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, which had stood close to the Safir hotel, the latter of which served as the main shelter for Takfirists for many months.

Nevertheless, many artifacts that were stolen from the town have survived, becoming smuggled goods. According to the information received by al Akhbar from reliable sources, the al Nusra militants are currently the most active dealers of black market antiques of the Middle East. Local smugglers are helping with "exporting" of the Ma'loula's antiquities abroad, transporting Christian monuments to many European countries - mainly to Italy and Turkey. It was reported that a great number of ancient icons, (icon) settings, crosses, reliquaries, and statues have already been taken out from Syria and sent abroad.

In close connection with this, there are ongoing attempts to release the Ma'loula nuns, who disappeared from the town in December 2013. Last week, Robert Abiad, head of the Lebanese Orthodox Council, accompanied by relatives of the kidnapped nuns from St. Thecla Convent, met with major general Abbas Ibrahim, chief of the Lebanese security service. In his interview with al Akhbar following the meeting, R. Abiad noted that "the negotiations were very fruitful, for all possible, serious efforts were being made to secure the release the kidnapped nuns." "Fortunately, security forces of Iraq have also joined negotiations with the kidnappers, as one of the abducted girls is a citizen of the Iraqi Republic," added the head of the Council.

Moreover, as it became known, on Sunday militants from the Jabhat al Nusra group had abducted Archbishop Abdo Arish, brother of the Metropolitan of Melkite Catholic Church in Homs, in the Syrian town of Ma'loula, reports ITAR-TASS.

Source: Zosimas, Pravoslavie - January 15, 2014

Twelve Nuns 'Abducted' As Rebels Recapture Maaloula, Syria

Three other women also abducted; Mother Superior says all 'fine and safe'

(Dec 03 2013) The Vatican has reported that 12 nuns were abducted as opposition rebels captured Syria's historically Christian town of Maaloula yesterday (December 2).

The majority of the town's Christian population is thought to have fled during clashes between government forces and rebels in September, leaving a mainly Muslim population behind.

The 40 nuns of the Orthodox Mar Takla convent had been the major exception, until 12 were abducted on Monday. They were reportedly taken to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud.

Febronia Nabhan, Mother Superior at the Saidnaya Convent told the Associated Press today that the nuns who left were accompanied by three other women. Nabhan said that the Maaloula convent's Mother Superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called her later on Monday and said they were all "fine and safe".

Mgr. Mario Zenari, the Vatican's ambassador in Damascus, told Vatican Radio the nuns were abducted on Monday afternoon, although he said he did not know the reason behind the kidnapping. The BBC quoted rebel group media sources, which said later the nuns had "not been abducted"; they had been warned to leave Maaloula for their own safety, but had refused.

Zenari said that the Patriarchate of the convent had "called on all Catholics to pray for the women."

Maaloula, 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of the capital, Damascus, is a symbol of Syria's ancient Christian roots, where Aramaic – the language spoken by Jesus – is still spoken.

Rebels re-captured the town after three days of fighting. It's strategically situated on the road between Damascus and Homs; reports today say that parts of this road are closed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition group, said that the rebel group had included Islamist fighters from the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Ramid Abdel Rahman, the SOHR director, said the opposition had taken control of the town and that there was now "no major fighting".

In September, three Catholic men were killed as rebel forces seized control of Maaloula. Government forces quickly retook power, but by that stage most of the Christians had fled.

NGOs report that when Islamist-dominated opposition groups take control of towns and villages, Christians are under severe threat. A petition to be presented at the UN next week has gathered over 270,000 signatures to urge, on behalf of Christians in Syria, that all those with influence and power do everything possible to:

• Protect the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of all the people of Syria

• Safeguard the existence of the Christian community and, in particular, stop the assaulting, kidnapping, torture and killing of Christians by extremist and criminal groups

• Guarantee safe, fair and proper access for all to humanitarian assistance, both inside and outside Syria

• Make it possible for Christians to remain in and/or return safely to their homes without fear or threat of violence

• Safeguard the right of Christians to be able to worship in peace and safety and allow them space to offer compassionate care and contribute to making peace

Source: www.worldwatchmonitor.org

Poem: Weep, O Children of Men!

by Mark Mallett

Weep, O Children of Men!

WEEP, O children of men!
Weep for all that is good, and true, and beautiful.
Weep for all that must go down to the tomb
Your icons and chants, your walls and steeples.

Weep, O children of men!
For all that is good, and true, and beautiful.

Weep for all that must go down to the Sepulcher
Your teachings and truths, your salt and your light.

Weep, O children of men!
For all that is good, and true, and beautiful.

Weep for all who must enter the night
Your priests and bishops, your popes and princes.

Weep, O children of men!
For all that is good, and true, and beautiful.

Weep for all who must enter the trial
The test of faith, the refiner’s fire.

…but weep not forever!

For dawn will come, light will conquer, a new Sun will rise.
And all that was good, and true, and beautiful
Will breathe new breath, and be given to sons again.

- m.m.

Those who go forth weeping, carrying sacks of seed,
will return with cries of joy,
carrying their bundled sheaves.

And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people:
and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her,
nor the voice of crying.

(Psalm 126:6; Isaiah 65:19)

Why Christians Are Crucial to the Middle East's Future

Religious freedom expert Thomas Farr says protection of persecuted Christian communities is key to stability and development of the war-torn region.

by Joan Frawley Desmond

In December 2013, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a Rome-based conference titled "Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives."

"From Cairo and Damascus to Tehran and Beijing, religious freedom is under siege. Ironically, it is Christianity - a faith that contributed decisively to the rise of religious liberty - that now finds itself increasingly persecuted around the world," the conference organizers noted.

On Dec. 30, 2013 Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center, offered further reflections on the reasons for the sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and the West's failure to intervene.

Q: Thirty-seven Iraqi Christians were killed during Christmas Day bombing attacks at two Baghdad churches. What do extremist groups hope to achieve?

Thomas Farr: In his Dec. 14, 2013 speech in Rome, Patriarch [Louis Raphael I] Sako said that Islamist extremists did not want free societies. I think he is right.

There are at least two dynamics at work here. First, extremists seek to suppress or eliminate all those, including Christians, who do not accept Islamist extremism. Second, the extremists understand that if Iraq is to become a functioning democratic society, Christians will play a substantive role. To cause Christians to flee Iraq is to undermine the prospects for a stable Iraqi democracy.

Q: When the U.S. agreed to pull out of Iraq were any guarantees made to provide security for religious minorities? And will Washington's recent promise of expanded military aid to the Iraqi government make a difference?

Thomas Farr: I am unaware of any guarantees made by the U.S. to provide security for religious minorities in Iraq or, frankly, anywhere else. In my view, any U.S. aid to Iraq, Egypt or any other country should be tied to protection for religious minorities, especially Christians, who are increasingly in the crosshairs and whose continued presence is vital to American national interests.

Q: Two years after the Arab Spring uprisings, Christians in Egypt and Syria, specifically, seem to be worse off. Could the West have made a difference?

Thomas Farr: Clearly, Egyptian and Syrian Christians are worse off. The West in general and the U.S. in particular could have mitigated the suffering of Christians by making it clear that their treatment was a matter of high priority. This is especially true in Egypt, where the United States has had some leverage through its foreign aid.

Q: During congressional testimony in December, 2013 Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom reported that anti-Christian violence is not merely directed at "individuals, but on the Christian and minority presence in its entirety." Would you explain what he means?

Thomas Farr: I believe that Islamist radicals in Egypt and elsewhere see the Christian presence as a major obstacle to their goals, not simply because Christians represent a religion different from Islam, but also because they represent the building blocks of what might become a stable Egyptian democratic state, with limited government, a vibrant civil society, economic opportunity, full equality under the law for all citizens and religious freedom.

Q: Religious-freedom expert Nina Shea has warned that the latest wave of violence poses an "existential threat to Middle-Eastern Christians - though it is not limited to the Middle East." Your thoughts?

Thomas Farr: Nina Shea is correct on both counts. Christianity in the Middle East is under siege, but it is also under great pressure elsewhere, including in China, Pakistan, some parts of India, Sudan and Nigeria. I would add that, while Christians in the West are not subject to violent persecution, the public presence and influence of Christian ideas is rapidly diminishing, in part because of the decline of religious liberty in the West. These phenomena help to explain why the West in general and the U.S. in particular have been so ineffective in opposing religious persecution and advancing religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Q: In December, Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project hosted a conference in Rome that addressed Christianity's contribution to the advance of religious freedom. How did Christianity foster respect for religious liberty?

Thomas Farr: The idea of religious liberty as intrinsic to every person and the demand that it be protected in law (including in its public manifestations) derives from the Christian tradition. As our conference made clear, the roots of the idea are found, for example, in the New Testament, the Church Fathers, such as Tertullian and Lactantius, the Medieval Scholastics, the Reformation and the founding of America.

The theological root is the Christian belief that man is created in the image and likeness of God and that God desires man to come to him freely. The philosophical root is that human dignity requires freedom in matters religious, such as an immunity from coercion by any human agent, especially governments.

Q: How will the exodus of Christians from the Middle East likely affect respect for religious freedom in that region and other fundamental human rights?

Thomas Farr: The exodus of Christians is a serious blow to the prospects of religious freedom, not only because their existence ensures religious pluralism, but also because faithful Christians are uniquely "hardwired" to defend religious freedom for all. Their tradition demands it.

Q; What has been the Catholic Church's response to the latest wave of anti-Christian violence in the Middle East?

Thomas Farr: Pope Francis has increasingly spoken out against this violence. Given the world's attention to him and his views, his strong condemnation of the violence is critical. I hope that his example will encourage other leaders, especially Western leaders, to speak out more consistently and to become serious about advancing international religious freedom.

During a November 2013 address before the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called on U.S. Catholics to "insist that our country's leaders make the protection of at-risk Christians abroad a foreign-policy priority for the United States." How can we influence U.S. policy, and are there any signs of hope?

U.S. Catholics should, of course, pray for Christians and all other minorities subject to persecution. But they must also get involved. They must, as it were, exercise their religious freedom by demanding that their own government pay more than lip service to the cause of international religious freedom.

Currently, the position of U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom is vacant. It should be filled immediately by a capable senior diplomat who understands the importance of religious freedom, not only as a humanitarian issue, but as a national security issue for the United States. The new ambassador should understand how religious freedom is necessary to stability in places like Egypt and Iraq and should be given the authority and resources to be successful.

About Thomas Farr:

Thomas Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. A former American diplomat, he is a leading authority on international religious freedom.

Copyright © 2014 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.
Source: National Catholic Register

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Breaks the Media Silence on Anti-Christian Persecution

By Nina Shea

Best-selling author, film director, women's-rights advocate, former Dutch parliamentarian, Islamist death-threat survivor, refugee from a Somalian forced marriage, and a fierce champion of individual freedoms - that of others as well as her own - Ayaan Hirsi Ali has demonstrated her courage once more. In the cover story she penned for the current issue of Newsweek, entitled "The War on Christians," which is excerpted in The Daily Beast, Hirsi Ali gives a tour d'horizon of the most politically incorrect subject of all human-rights reporting: the ongoing religious persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. It makes heartbreaking reading.

She criticizes the media for giving short shrift to this development, favoring instead the narrative that Muslims are the victims of religious persecution by the West. She writes:

But a fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other.

The international media does report on the isolated anti-Christian atrocity: the Nigerian church that was blown up last Christmas, the Egyptian Coptic demonstrators killed for protesting religious persecution in October, and the 2010 Iraqi church bombing (the 70th documented church bombing in that country since 2003), which killed or maimed three priests and everyone else in it, to cite but a few examples. But it rarely looks at the global pattern, or even national patterns, and their significance.

As Hirsi Ali asserts, this is an urgent issue: "The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity - and ultimately of all religious minorities - in the Islamic world is at stake." Unfortunately, Arab democracy in Iraq and Egypt, the ancient homelands of two of the three largest Middle Eastern Christian communities, seems to be exacerbating the religious persecution.

In her piece, she observes that Muslim violence against Christians is on the rise in many areas, and she agrees with my conclusion, included in the same Newsweek issue, that Christians in Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, northern Nigeria, and a number of other places have lost the protection of their societies. She comments:

This is especially so in countries with growing radical Islamist (Salafist) movements. In those nations, vigilantes often feel they can act with impunity - and government inaction often proves them right. The old idea of the Ottoman Turks - that non-Muslims in Muslim societies deserve protection (albeit as second-class citizens) - has all but vanished from wide swaths of the Islamic world, and increasingly the result is bloodshed and oppression.

She is right. The reasons for the worldwide growth of Salafi movements raise another question. As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Treasury's office on counterterrorism, and my own and others' studies have pointed out, Saudi Arabia bears much responsibility; it exports its virulently intolerant Salafi ideology through educational materials and religious leaders. (Among other things, the imams of Mecca's Grand Mosque and Medina's Prophet's Mosque, who serve at the pleasure of King Abdullah, the "Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines," pray on Fridays before vast crowds of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world for the destruction and total annihilation of non-Muslims.) But that is a subject for another story.

Hirsi Ali's piece is important reading. Americans need to know about this phenomenon because, in the end, the United States, which is allied to and supports Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria, is these besieged Christians' last best hope. So far, the Obama administration has not even recognized the patterns. Hirsi Ali and Newsweek deserve credit for breaking the silence of the mainstream media on the rising persecution of Christians in much of the Muslim world.

- Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.

Source: National Review, February 7, 2012
© National Review Online 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Where is God At Times Like These?
A Meditation in The Wake of a Violent Atrocity

By Msgr. Charles Pope

One of the great mysteries to the believer and non-believer alike is the mystery of evil and suffering. If there is a God who is omnipotent and omniscient how can he tolerate evil, injustice, and suffering of the innocent? Where was God when the shootings in Connecticut occurred? Where is God when a young girl is raped, when genocide is committed, when evil men hatch their plots? Why Did God even conceive the evil ones, and let them be born?

The problem of evil cannot be simply answered. It is a mystery. It’s purpose and why God permits it are caught up in our limited vision and understanding. The scriptures say how “all things work together for the good of those who love and trust the Lord and are called according to his purposes. ” But how this is so is difficult for us to see in many circumstances.

Anyone who have ever suffered tragic and senseless loss or observed the disproportionate suffering that some must endure cannot help but ask, why? And the answers aren’t all that satisfying to many for suffering is ultimately mysterious in many ways.

I have some respect for those who struggle to believe in the wake of tragedy. I do not share their struggle but I understand and respect its depths and the dignity of the question. At the end of the trail of questions, often asked in anguish, is God who has not chosen to supply simple answers. Perhaps if he were our simple minds could not comprehend them anyway. We are left simply to decide, often in the face of great evil and puzzling suffering, that God exists or not.

As in the days of Job, we cry out for answers but little is forthcoming. In the Book of Job, God speaks from a whirlwind and He questions Job’s ability to even ask the right questions, let alone venture and answer to the problem and presence of evil and suffering. If He were to explain, it seems all that we would hear would be thunder. In the end he is God and we are not. This must be enough and we must look to the reward that awaits the faithful with trust.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of suffering is its uneven distribution. In America we suffer little in comparison to many other parts of the world. Further, even here, some skate through life strong and sleek, wealthy and well fed. Others endure suffering, crippling disease, inexplicable and sudden losses, financial setbacks, and burdens.

It is a true fact that a lot of our suffering comes from bad choices, substance abuse and lack of self-control. But some suffering seems unrelated to any of this.

And the most difficult suffering to accept is that caused on the innocent by third parties who seem to suffer no penalty. Parents who mistreat or neglect their children, the poor who are exploited and used, caught in schemes others have made, perhaps it is corrupt governments, perhaps unscrupulous industries, or crazed killers.

Suffering is hard to explain or accept simply. I think this just has to be admitted. Simple slogans and quick answers are seldom sufficient in the face of great evil and suffering. Perhaps when interacting with an atheist of this third kind, sympathy, understanding and a call to humility goes farther than forceful rebuttal.

A respectful exposition of the Christian understanding of evil might include some of the following points. Note, these are not explanations per se (for suffering is a great mystery) and they are humble for they admit of their own limits.

1. The Scriptures teach that God created a world that was as a paradise. Though we only get a brief glimpse of it, it seems clear that death and suffering were not part of the garden.

2. But even there the serpent coiled from the branch of a tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and EVIL. So even in paradise the mystery of evil lurked in minimal form.

3. In a way the tree and the serpent had to be there. For we were made to love. And love requires freedom and freedom requires choices. The Yes of love must permit of the No of sin. In our rebellious “no” both we and the world unraveled, death and chaos entered in. Paradise was lost and a far more hostile and unpredictable world remained. From this fact came all of the suffering and evil we endure. Our sins alone cause an enormous amount of suffering on this earth, by my reckoning that vast majority of it. Of the suffering caused by natural phenomenon this too is linked to sin, Original Sin, wherein we preferred to reign in a hellish imitation rather than serve in the real paradise.

4. This link of evil and suffering to human freedom also explains God’s usual non-intervention in evil matters. Were God to do so routinely, it would make an abstraction of human freedom and thus removes a central pillar of love. But here too there is mystery for the scriptures frequently recount how God does intervene to put an end to evil plots, to turn back wars, shorten famines and plagues. Why does he sometimes intervene and sometimes not? Why do prayers of deliverance sometimes get answered and sometimes not? Here too there is a mystery of providence.

5. The lengthiest Biblical treatise on suffering is the Book of Job and there God shows an almost shocking lack of sympathy for Job’s questions and sets a lengthy foundation for the conclusion that the mind of man is simply incapable of seeing into the depths of this problem. God saw fit that Job’s faith be tested and strengthened. But in the end Job is restored and re-established with even greater blessings in a kind of foretaste of what is meant by heaven.

6. The First Letter of Peter also explains suffering in this way: In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7) In other words, our sufferings purify and prepare us to meet God.

7. Does this mean that those who suffer more need more purification? Not necessarily. It could also mean that a greater glory is waiting for them. For the Scriptures teach Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison(2 Cor 4:16-17) Hence suffering “produces” glory in the world to come. With this insight, those who suffer more, but with faith, will have greater glory in the world to come.

8. Regarding the apparent injustice of uneven suffering it will be noted that the Scriptures teach of a great reversal wherein many who are last shall be first (Mat 20:16), where the mighty will be cast down and the lowly exulted, where the rich will go away empty and poor be filled. (Luke 1:52-53) In this sense it is not necessarily an blessing to rich and well fed, unaccustomed to any suffering. For in the great reversal the first will be last. The only chance the rich and well healed have to avoid this is to be generous and kind to the poor and those who suffer (1 Tim:6:17-18).

9. Finally, as to God’s apparent insensitivity to suffering, we can only point to Christ who did not exempt himself from the suffering we chose by leaving Eden. He suffered mightily and unjustly but also showed that this would be a way home to paradise.

To these points I am sure you will add. But be careful with the problem of evil and suffering. It has mysterious dimensions which must be respected. Simple answers may not help those who struggle with the problem of suffering and evil. Understanding and an exposition that shows forth the Christian struggle to come to grips with this may be the best way. The “answer” of scripture requires faith but the answer appeals to reason, and calls us to humility before a great mystery of which we see only a little. The appeal to humility before a mystery may command greater respect from an atheist of this sort than pat answers which may tend to alienate.

Being Faithful Does Not Give Us Immunity From Suffering

by Woodrow Kroll

Occasionally, I come across a sermon by a popular preacher teaching that the Bible promises God's followers a life free from misfortune. Well, I'm not sure what Bible they're reading because my Bible doesn't say that.

The truth is we live in a sinful world. And as I flip through the Bible or look at history, I see that it's often the most faithful who face the roughest challenges in life.

Joseph is a perfect example. He was rock-solid in his faith. When he caught his brothers doing something they shouldn't, he told his father (Genesis 37:2). When he was pressured by Potiphar's wife to be immoral, he ran the other way - and landed in prison as a result. And although he remained in prison for at least two years, the Bible is clear that Joseph never stopped serving God.

So, why did he endure such misery? Joseph knew exactly why. After their father died, Joseph's brothers approached him, afraid the brother they once sold into slavery would seek vengeance. But Joseph answered them:

"Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:19-20).

What I learn from Joseph is that a person of faith won't necessarily escape hardship, but they will have the proper perspective on hardship. Long before Paul wrote to the Romans, Joseph understood that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

We live in a sinful world among sinful people trying to achieve sinful goals. But God's plans will win the day, and those faithful to Him rejoice in anticipation of it. While this world may have been a lot better if sin had never entered it, it's comforting to know that God always has the last word.

Blessed Are the Persecuted

by Kelly McFadden

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Matthew 5:11-12

The news has reported stories about the Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity. Rahman was discovered with a Bible and arrested because Islam law does not allow a man to convert to Christianity. After refusing to recant, Rahman, through the help of the United Nations, was given asylum in Rome. Although the Afghan government released him after much unwanted press, there was still a public outcry demanding that he either convert back or face the death penalty.

Blessed are those who are persecuted.

It is a hard pill to swallow. It seems backwards to think about being happy while being persecuted. It seems unnatural to think about rejoicing or feeling blessed while being threatened for beliefs. The biggest persecution I have faced due to my faith are people disagreeing with me. Never have I been threatened. I'm not sure about you, but when I hear a story like this, my first thought usually is "I am so blessed to live in a country where I have religious freedom."

Jesus tells us to be happy when we are persecuted because of Him.

My initial reaction is to say, "What good can come out of persecution? What good came to the ancient prophets who were persecuted for their faith?" However, when I look at the ancient prophets and consider this Afghan man, I see something different. Religious persecution helps us keep our eyes focused on heavenly rewards, not earthly ones. Religious persecution solidifies our faith, and tears through the superficial. Religious persecution strengthens faith as an example for others. Religious persecution gives us a glimpse of walking in Jesus' shoes, and brings us into a closer relationship with Him.

Most people in today's world will not have their lives threatened for choosing to follow Jesus. But the Scriptures declare all who want to live a godly life will come to a point where they are challenged or looked on with contempt for their beliefs. Rejoice when you are persecuted for great is your eternal reward.

GOING DEEPER:

What is your first reaction to hearing the story of the Afghan man?
Why is it sometimes hard to rejoice when you are being persecuted for your faith?

FURTHER READING:

Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14; 2 Timothy 3:10-13

Source: Today's Homeword Devotional

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