A lecture on humanity: The persecution of Christians in the Middle East
Students, faculty and community members alike all gathered together Friday, Sept. 5, in the Johnson Lecture Hall to hear Father Stephen Freeman's unique perspective on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East as an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Father Freeman is a widely known, author, blogger and priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of America. He serves as a rector for the St. Ann Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Invited to Lee by the recently formed chapter of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship-Lee University, which hopes to offer one lecture a semester in order to better connect Lee students with the history of Christianity as a whole, but also to deepen individuals' own faith through personal interaction of members.
"I think that we [Orthodox Christians] have a lot to offer our brothers and sisters [in Christ] that share a common heritage with us, that the faith we are able to share with them, the theology we are able to share with them, our perspective is their own heritage as well,' Josiah Augustine, senior Lee student and fellowship member said. "As they seek to find God and struggle with their own issues of faith, a more unified awareness between believers will help bring unity to the Christian world."
The Eastern Orthodox Church is one that takes pride in keeping with its ancient traditions. In the words of Freeman, the Orthodox Church has remained 'faithfully unchanged' for 2,000 years. In keeping with these traditions, Orthodoxy commemorates thousands of martyrs each year, calling themselves the 'Church of the martyrs.'
"Jesus Christ is the God of love, for whom the forgiveness of enemies is a commandment ... this is the great witness of Christianity in the Middle East,' Freeman said.
During the lecture, Freeman, spoke about his personal experience this past summer in England dealing with specific issues that plague Christians who live as a minority in many places around the world.
Freeman, under the sponsorship of the group Coptic Orphans Fund, which focuses on providing relief work for Coptic Christians in Egypt, spent time discussing issues that affect those like Coptic Christians, 'a minority' group who make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt's total population of over 80 million people.
In August 2013, Coptic churches and monasteries fell under attack and were burned by Islamic supporters of the former Egyptian president.
Freeman said in the wake of these attacks, Coptic Christians joined together with Muslims of 'good-heart' to create human chains to protect their churches from the bombs and burning of their churches.
These acts of unity between Coptic Christians and their Muslim neighbors were pointed out by Freeman as a sign of what Christians can do in times of crisis.
'Doing good doesn't always make other people be good, but it attracts some [non-believers," Freeman said. "And it attracts some of them [non-believers] even to the gospel of Christ, because who is going to believe in a loving God if they don't see a loving Christian.'
This picture of humanity, the tangible evidence of Christian minorities standing with their neighbors, was the support for Freeman's lecture on what Christians can do in a time of turmoil in the Middle East.
'Christianity is not a moral project,' Freeman said. 'Jesus did not die to make bad men good, Jesus died to make dead men live.'
According to the Washington Post, in recent months, the terrorist group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq or ISIS has targeted many minority groups, Shiites and Christians alike, and has also been accused of mass beheadings of Iraqi citizens.
'The forgiveness of enemies, and the love of enemies is because your enemy is you,' Freeman said. 'God came so we can become like God, not so we can demonize one another. They [ISIS] are victims of the evil one that they should think such evil thoughts, that beheading serves God and is a righteous cause. We should pray for them, and we should grieve for them.'
When speaking on a point in Freeman's lecture on the flawed nature of humanity, Dayla Cole, senior student at Lee said, I don't think in this situation [in the Middle East] a Pentecostal or an Orthodox Christian would have a different view. The nature of human life is very sacred and an Orthodox view says the nature of our humanity, our one calling is to become like Christ. In this situation, to do that we must pray for our enemies and for those who are persecuted.