While imprisoned by the Nazis at Tegel military prison, and shortly after learning of the last failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned a short poem for his friend, Eberhard Bethge, titled “Stations on the Road to Freedom.”
I’ve come across the poem before, but in recently reading Eric Metaxas’ fine biography of the man, I was reminded of its power and potency in describing the essence of Christian freedom. It becomes all the more compelling given its context, serving as a “distillation of his theology at the time,” as Metaxas describes it.
Though we must be careful to appreciate the time and place from which it sprung, it brings with it plenty of implications for the ways in which we order our lives and allegiances. Indeed, in his prodding toward obedience, discipline, and submission to God — features many would find contradictory or in opposition to freedom — Bonhoeffer’s embrace of this profound paradox dovetails quite nicely with Lord Acton’s famous notion of “defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
Joe Carter has done a marvelous job of outlining the details surrounding the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate. In a recent cover story for WORLD Magazine, these details are brought to life through a series of snapshots of real businesses and non-profits facing a real choice to either violate their Christian consciences or become economic martyrs.
Thus far, Hobby Lobby has received much of the national spotlight—due in part to their visibility in the marketplace and corresponding outspokenness. In the WORLD article, we begin to see the bigger picture, beginning with Chris and Paul Griesedieck, brothers and owners of American Pulverizer, a small, 105-year-old, family-owned manufacturing company, which could face fines of up to $5 million per year if the owners choose to be guided by Christian principles above economic penalties:
Like Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs, the Griesediecks filed a lawsuit against HHS. They say the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a law designed to protect against government infringement of religious freedom) and their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. The brothers made a simple argument based on Christian principles: “It would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.”
…Frank Manion—an attorney at the American Center for Law and Justice—represents the Griesediecks, and says the federal government is imposing a stark choice on his clients and all Christian employers who oppose the mandate: “Abandon their beliefs in order to stay in business, or abandon their business in order to stay true to their beliefs.”
Abraham Kuyper famously wrote that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” This view may seem uncontroversial to some, yet it is increasingly seen by our scrupulous government overlords to be irrelevant to First Amendment protections: (more…)
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Oct. 16 after the session of the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.
In an interview for Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly, the Russian Orthodox bishop in charge of external affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, warned that that the situation for the Christian population of Syria has deteriorated to an alarming degree. Hilarion compared the situation today, after almost two years of fighting in Syria, as analogous to Iraq, which saw a virtual depopulation of Christians following the U.S. invasion in 2003.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been among the most active witnesses against Christian persecution around the world, particularly in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. In November 2011, Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, visited Syria and Lebanon. In a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kirill said that he shared a concern with Assad about the “spread of religious radicalism that threatens the integrity of the Arab world.”
That sentiment has been expressed widely in Christian communities in Syria — some of them dating to apostolic times — as civil war has progressively taken a heavy toll. Now almost two years on, as many as 30,000 people may have perished. Despite having few illusions about the nature of Assad’s autocratic rule, many Christians feared that the Islamist groups, involved in what the West initially viewed as another “Arab Spring” uprising, would eventually turn on them. Indeed this is what has happened. Entire Christian villages have been depopulated, churches desecrated, and many brutal killings have taken place at the hands of the “Arab Spring” insurgents. Most recently, Fr. Fadi Haddad, an Orthodox priest, was found murdered with brutal marks of torture on his remains. Car bomb attacks are now being waged against Christian neighborhoods. (See these backgrounders on the Syrian crisis from the Congressional Research Service and the Council on Foreign Relations). (more…)
This video (loads slowly, allow it to buffer for a few minutes before watching) is a very good 20-minute report on Syrian Christianity that offers a glimpse of what it’s like to have lived for centuries as a religious minority in a land dominated by Islam. Indeed, Arab Christians have been worshiping in some of these Syrian communities since the earliest days of the Christian faith.
While the report is from a Catholic viewpoint, produced in 2000 by the Catholic Radio & Television Network, it looks at the ways other Arab Christian faith traditions — such as the Orthodox Church — are working together cooperatively in very tough times.
The Barnabas Fund reports that the “city of Homs, the third largest in Syria, has now seen almost its entire Christian population of 50,000 to 60,000 flee.”
The number of Christians left in the city has reportedly fallen to below 1,000 after the strife between the troops of President Bashar Assad and anti-government forces reached its peak there last month. Christians have fled to surrounding villages, other major Syrian cities, and even Lebanon. Those who remain have spoken of a growing “atmosphere of fear”.
During the worst of the conflict, the opposition forces attacked churches and also occupied an evangelical school and home for the elderly, which were then shelled by the army. Church leaders have reported that Muslim neighbours are turning on the Christians, and that Muslim extremists from other countries have been coming to Homs to join the fighting.
Christians have also suffered kidnappings and gruesome murders. Some Christian families, unable to pay a ransom for their relatives’ release and fearing that they may be tortured, have been driven to ask the kidnappers to kill their loved ones at once.
The Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents over half of Syrian Christians, issued a statement saying revolutionary fighters had expelled some 50,000 Christians from the embattled city of Homs. That figure is estimated to account for about 90 percent of the Christian community there. Hundreds more — including women and children — were slaughtered, according to charitable organizations operating in the area.
The Orthodox Church referred to the persecution as the “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians” by Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda. According to its report, the so-called “Brigade Faruq” is largely to blame, with Islamic extremists going door to door and forcing followers of Christ to leave without even collecting their belongings. Their property is then stolen by rebels as “war-booty from the Christians.”
Christians in Homs were reportedly told that if they did not leave immediately, they would be shot. Then, pictures of their bodies would be sent to the pro-Syrian-regime-change Al Jazeera — a media broadcaster controlled by the dictatorship ruling Qatar — with a message claiming that forces loyal to Assad had murdered them.
A few days prior to Benedict’s XVI’s apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba, producers of the epic film Cristiada (For Greater Glory in English) arranged a private screening in the Vatican City State. I was among the many avid defenders of religious liberty who scurried over to the Augustinianum venue next to St. Peter’s Square at last-minute notice.
No doubt the film’s all-star Hollywood cast (Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria and Eduardo Verastegui) was enough to draw us away from other competing events that evening (including dinner!).
Truth be told, many of us had not heard much about the Cristeros War, the civil rebellion led by priests and laity to resist the total elimination of religious liberty in Mexico in the 1920s under marxist President Plutarco Calles.
Our small sacrifice to come over to the Vatican that night in support of a little known war in defense of religious freedom was embarassingly miniscule compared to the super heroic sacrifices the film’s protagonists made to keep the Christian faith alive in their country.
In a Zenit interview, the film’s producer Pablo Barroso said that the planning for the $20 million production had been going on for three years and the timing for its early April release in Mexico was providentially perfect. “Who would have thought back then that the pope would be going to Mexico, much less to Cubilete (home to the national Cristo Rey monument and patron of the Cristero War heroes) to say his first Mass there. This (timing) really came from heaven”.
Cristiada was directed by the Titanic and Lord of the Rings special effects genius, Dean Wright. The film, therefore, has no shortage of spectacular action and breathtaking scenery. But it is the story of heroic martyrdom that will draw crowds to theaters.
The film begins in 1926 when Mexican Catholic rebels spontaneously organize bloody standoffs to President Plutarco Calles’s federales who ruthlessly and systematically shutdown all forms of Catholic worship in the state of Jalisco. At the time Mass, preaching the Gospel, catechesis, and administering the sacraments were all made illegal throughout Mexico.
President Calles’s plan to completely secularize Mexico had no patience for Church resistance and echoed what had happened in Bolshevik Russia following the October Revolution of 1917.
Calles, therefore, wasted no time in eliminating religious leadership that spoke out against loyalty to his government’s commands and in defense of God’s. Moreover, Calles was deeply weary of Rome’s indirect influence over the populace’s thirst for fervent religious expression, while Pope Pius XI continued to forcefully denounce the secularization of education in Europe and the Americas.
In 3 years of Calles’s presidency the total priestly population was reduced to some 350 among Mexico’s 15 million Catholics. Several hundred priests were brought to the federales’s firing squad, hung from their church towers and thousands of religious leaders were expelled from Mexico to the United States and abroad.
Calles’s anticlerical regime was so cruel that is “simply amazing not even many Mexicans know about the Cristeros rebellion”, Barroso told to the screening’s attendees and remarked on how the revolt is not mentioned in Mexican school curricula.
Not a few martyrs lost their lives to keep the Church alive, including Mexico’s most famous twentieth century general, Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) who, despite his atheism, eventually values religious freedom higher than state-enforced secularism. Gorostieta, inspired by a tortured little boy’s unbending faith and martyrdom, undergoes a conversion of heart and charismatically leads the rag-tag Cristeros soldiers to impassioned underdog victories.
When the film hits US theaters this June, I highly recommend seeing it, especially those Catholics who see their liberty under carefully organized attack by the Obama administration and other forms of hostile government. What happened in Mexico nearly 100 years ago is an extreme example of what governments can do, yet should serve as a powerful reminder of their dangerous potential to wipe out liberty altogether.
The casket with the body of Patriarch Alexy II is displayed during a farewell ceremony in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, on December 6.
Russian Orthodox Christians are holding memorial services and preparing for the Tuesday funeral of Patriarch Alexy II, the man who led the world’s largest Orthodox Church out of the Soviet era and into a period of remarkable rebirth and growth following decades of persecution and genocidal martyrdom at the hands of atheistic communist regimes.
Carrying mourning bouquets, thousands of people queued in cold drizzle across several blocks of central Moscow to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where Alexy II will lie in state until his funeral on Tuesday.
“I feel like a bit of my heart has been torn out,” said tearful pensioner Maria Mindova, who had traveled from Ukraine. “No words can express the pain of this loss.”
The Zenit News Service published this touching account of the Patriarch’s passing by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to European Organizations:
In my memory Patriarch Alexy will remain first of all as a loving father, who was always ready to listen, who was supportive and gentle.
Almost half of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including myself, were ordained into episcopate by Patriarch Alexy. We are all deeply indebted to him.
The years of his patriarchate constituted an entire epoch in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was precisely in this time that the resurrection of the Russian Church took place, which continues to this day.
May his memory be eternal.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said Patriarch Alexy’s leadership formed and strengthened cooperation between the country’s Orthodox world and Jewish community, with the Muslim community, and with representatives of other faiths on the questions of social ministry.
“The great man has died and the whole epoch has passed away with him. Patriarch Alexy II’s death is a great loss for the Russian Orthodox Church and for the entire religious community,” FJCR President Alexander Boroda said in his address handed over to Interfax-Religion.
“Jewish tradition says that people who led righteous life don’t die as their deeds go on living. Today Alexy II is not with us anymore. But his outstanding deeds have stayed with us as well as the blessed memory of a person who did so much good for Russia,” he added. (more…)
The latest issue of Christian Scholar’s Review (vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2008) features a contribution from me, “Bonhoeffer in America—A Review Essay.” Using the rubric of Bonhoeffer’s two trips to America in 1930-31 and 1939, I examine his reception in the United States and the broader English-speaking world via a number of recent texts by and about the German theologian.
One of the books I consider in the review essay is Craig Slane’s excellent study, Bonhoeffer as Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment. One of the nice things about this book is its attention to the historical development of martyrdom and suffering as a phenomenon in the Christian church, as well as the focus on bringing their significance to bear in the modern West.
A feature film, Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise is due out next February and “is based on the July 20 Plot of German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler.” (An interview with Ralph Winter, who produced previous films by Valkyrie director Bryan Singer, appears in the Autumn 2005 issue of Religion & Liberty.)
PowerBlog:You talk about the history of the faith and tradition in your book a great deal. What do North American evangelicals stand to gain from examining more closely their own history and traditions? In what sense ought Protestantism be understood as “catholic”? Part of that great Christian tradition has to do with the witnesses to the faith, which you survey in the book. What do the concepts of martyrdom and suffering have to do with a Western context where most Christians live comfortably and without the threat of persecution?
Colson: “All true Christians confess the creed: we believe in one holy, catholic, apostolic church. Protestantism of course distinguishes itself from the Roman Church doctrine, but regards itself as part of the one body of Christ, one holy catholic apostolic church.
It is crucial that Christians understand history and tradition. Just look at how America was founded in the midst of a Great Awakening led by George Whitfield, who had been greatly influenced by the Wesley Awakening and by Wesley himself. Look at the role of Jonathan Edwards, not only in shaping the early structures of American society but in producing some of the great writings that is part of our own heritage, both as Americans and as Christians. The Encyclopedia Britannica said that Edwards was the greatest mind produced in the western hemisphere. We also need to understand the history of revivalism and how it profoundly affected the shaping of American society and culture. Christianity’s role in bringing educational institutions to the new world is indispensable.
On the subject of martyrdom and suffering, we’ve had some, but precious little. We’ve lived in a largely contained and protected environment. And that may be one of the reasons why secularism is advancing so rapidly even in the church.”
Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour, along with all of the other Q&As to come. Next up today: The Dawn Treader. Also, be sure to raise questions in the comments section below. The word is that Chuck will be answering some of the questions raised in the comments throughout the blog tour. (Be sure to comment and raise questions at other stops on the tour, if you find the topics raised there to be of more interest.)
People light candles below a wooden cross at a site south of Moscow where at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges 70 years ago firing squads executed thousands of people perceived as enemies of communism. (AP)
“Martyrdom means a great deal to Orthodox people,” writes historian James Billington in “The Orthodox Frontier of Faith,” an essay collected in “Orthodoxy and Western Culture,” a volume of essays published in honor of Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005).
The 20th Century’s first genocide, the Armenian genocide, began with terror and massacres in the late 19th century and culminated in the great destruction of Christian minorities at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915-1918. Some 1.5 million Armenian Christians perished, according to Armenian sources. With the Russian Revolution and the rise of totalitarian communism, the martrydom of Christians took on unprecedented proportions in the gulags, killing fields and the famines that resulted from forced collectivization of farming.
Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a historian who has written several books on Russian culture, cites figures showing that “something like 70 percent of all Christian martyrs were created in the twentieth century, and the largest number of those were in Russia. Religious persecution was quite ecumenical; all religions suffered. However, since Orthodoxy was the main religion of the USSR, it suffered specially. The same Russian expanses that saw amazing frontier missionary activity in the early modern period suffered enormous devastation in the twentieth century when millions of people disappeared in the frozen wastes of the North and the East. The concentration camps were spread across almost exactly the same places – often using the monasteries for prisons.”
The world will never know all of the names of the millions of New Martyrs, as they are known to the Church, who perished under Communism, an oppression that lasted for most of the 20th Century. But their martyria, their witness, will be forever known to God.
In Russia this week, according to AP, “Russian Orthodox priests consecrated a wooden cross Wednesday at a site south of Moscow where firing squads executed thousands of people 70 years ago at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges. Created at a monastery that housed one of the first Soviet labor camps and brought by barge to Moscow along a canal built on the bones of gulag inmates, the 40-foot cross has been embraced as memorial to the mass suffering under Stalin.”
Noticeably absent, the article said, were representatives of President Vladimir Putin’s government. “This is in keeping with efforts by … Putin, a former KGB officer, to restore Russians’ pride in their Soviet-era history by softening the public perception of Stalin’s rule,” wrote reporter Bagila Bukharbayeva. Nostalgia for the Soviet era? Read remarks on the subject by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his recent Der Spiegel interview.
The site consecrated to the Russian martyrs this week marked the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were labeled “enemies of the state” and executed without trial or sent to labor camps. The Butovo range was used for executions in the 1930s and until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Some 20,000 people, including priests and artists, were killed there in 1937-38 alone. “We have been ordered to be proud of our past,” said Yan Rachinsky from Memorial, a non-governmental group dedicated to investigating Stalin’s repression. “I know no other example in history when 700,000 people were killed within 1 1/2 years only for political reasons.”
Follow the link below to read the entire report on the memorial to victims of Stalin’s Purge. (more…)