In the build up to Christmas many of us will be busying ourselves with buying gifts and preparing for celebrations. Commercialism has become an everyday part of our celebration, and it often leads us to feeling pressured and overwhelmed prior to what is actually a reminder of welcoming the Prince of Peace into our lives.
While Christmas is of course a blessed time of year for us as Christians, this is not the case for all. It is unfathomable to think that there are still hundreds of millions across our world today who continue to suffer for the same faith that we so freely practise, and even sometimes take for granted, here in Britain.
On November 22, what has come to be known as Red Wednesday, public buildings, churches and places of worship were lit in red to signify the blood of the martyrs, and all those who continue to suffer religious persecution today.
Speeches were given and presentations made outside Westminster Cathedral in London to raise awareness of the estimated 200 million Christians worldwide who experience persecution because of their faith, and to shed light on the countless other minorities who likewise suffer for not “fitting the mould”.
The past few years have been eye-opening in terms of the sheer extent of suffering and injustice experienced by so many, and what is unfortunate is that there appears to be no end to it.
In light of the suffering we witness and read about, we must, as Christians, reflect upon what our role is in the midst of all of this. We are called in Scripture to look after our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, for “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). What is more, we are called to advocate for humanity as a whole, following in the footsteps of our Lord, who gave us a clear example of advocacy in the Gospel of Luke (4:18): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
As humanity was made in the image and likeness of God, we have all been given the freedom to choose or indeed to reject Him. In that same spirit, we must afford all the right to choose God, and endeavour to protect that right for those who are denied it.
The brutal persecution of so many across our world is sometimes too vast to comprehend. It is, however, our responsibility as good and faithful stewards of God not to close our eyes to the suffering of others. Many of us may feel despondent or incapable of addressing the issues at hand, as often we are far removed from the problem and ill-equipped to help. Yet prayer is a resource we always have within our grasp. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Prayer is a significant (but not the sole) solution to this problem which is larger than any one individual, community or nation. There are many people across a variety of platforms, institutions and ministries working tirelessly to alleviate the pain and suffering of the persecuted. Our role may be as simple as supporting them to carry out their work effectively. We can also continue to raise awareness, and not accept the constant changing of media narratives that avoid ongoing issues just because they are no longer on the agenda.
As we stand together in solidarity on days like Red Wednesday, we must keep firmly before us the understanding that this is not merely a matter of generic advocacy or making a political statement. It is about the real lives of individuals who are really suffering on a daily basis. With this understanding, we must remain committed to them, individually and collectively, and strive to do as much as we can so that their plight and their suffering is not forgotten.
It is indeed at the heart of the Scriptures that we read and live, to be God’s presence and light in an ever-darkening environment, and a beacon to those who find themselves lost in the midst of that darkness.
Bishop Angaelos is the Bishop of the new Coptic Orthodox Diocese of London
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.