When the ISIS were about to complete their genocide of the Christians of Mosul in the past few days, they put this mark on the walls of the homes of the Christians — to mark them out for plunder and death. This is the letter “Nun” (ن), the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet (the equivalent of letter N in our Roman alphabet), the first letter of the word Nasara (نصارى : Nazarenes).
Perhaps I shouldn’t be suggesting this as I have only recently converted to Orthodox Christianity. Then again, I have not let my lack of years in the faith (or lack of being a part of the Church) be a barrier to sharing my opinion. But, with the recent events in Iraq, Palestine, and the Ukraine added to other persecutions and evidence of ignorance of our faith; I think “nun” should be adopted as a symbol of the Orthodox Christianity.
“Nun” has been spray-painted on the walls of homes that are to be looted and destroyed by the ISIS terrorist in Mosul and other Iraqi cities and towns. This blatant use of a symbol to target people for genocide is no different than when the Nazis painted the Star of David on Jewish homes and shops in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s. The Muslim world has always been oppressive to Christians. However, there have always been some instances where the two faiths did co-exist in toleration of each other. Under modern Arab dictators such as Saddam Hussien, Christians could enjoy some levels of freedom and even rise in government office. But, the combination of American foreign policies and the rise of militant Wahhabi Muslims has been detrimental to the survival of Christianity in the lands where our faith has existed for 2,000 years.
“Nun” indicates a home or shop owned by Nasara (نصارى : Nazarenes). Well, was not our Lord from Nazareth? Do we not wish to be known as His followers? Jesus did warn the disciples that if the world hated Him, they would hate them as well. Of the 12 (Mattias, of course, taking the place of Judas Iscariot), all but one was martyred and John the Evangelist died in exile. Orthodox Christians are no strangers to horrible persecutions from the Jews and Romans in the early years, to successive waves of Islamic domination, to the more modern communist. We have such a great cloud of witnesses, martyrs who’s names are well known to everyone from the Ethiopian highlands to the Siberian forest to those who will be killed by the time I finish this article. Tertullian of Carthage taught that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. ISIS has put a new label on the seed of various Christians. May we be worthy to wear it as well.
The blood of martyrs is being spilled in Palestine as well with the new war between Hamas and Zionist Israel. The number of Christians in Palestine has steadily declined since 1948 and does so more rapidly as innocent civilians of the three great monotheistic religions are caught up in the crossfire of terrorism and war. Of course no one supports Hamas launching rockets into Israel and killing civilians. But, aren’t the lives of Palestinian civilians, including Christians who have been in the land since 33 AD, just as valuable and worth protecting? Shouldn’t the people of Gaza and the West Bank have control over their own natural resources and destiny? Both Hamas and the Israelis are war criminals and our Christian brothers and sisters are paying a high price in blood and abandoning the places where our faith was born. At least ISIS is kind enough to use spray paint to indicate who we are.
“Nun” should be a call for unity among eastern Christians. Metropolitan Paul (Antiochian/Greek) and Mar Gregorios Yohanna (Syriac) are still missing in Syria. Miriam Ibrahim (Ethiopian) was just released from Sudan after her horrible ordeal for standing up for her faith. I am sure someone far more knowledgeable and scholarly can define the reasons why we are still separate from each other. I wasn’t there at Chalcedon in 451 AD. But here in 2014, I see more reasons for us to set aside some ancient barriers for a closer relationship, if not full unity. ISIS could care less if someone is Antiochian or Syriac. Zionist don’t care about what makes a Copt different from a Chaldean. They kill us because we are Christians living in the Middle East. We who live in the United States and other places should take the time to get to know one another. On my way to my Antiochian Parish, there are two Greek Churches in Williamsburg and Newport News, and two Coptic congregations and, I think, a recently formed OCA church in Hampton. I confess that I don’t know the Copts and OCAs and I will make a point to correct that.
“Nun” should be a way to let our western Christian brothers and sisters know that we exist. Too often, Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism is ignored as people buy the latest books from Joel Osteen or TD Jakes. It is as if most Americans think Christianity completely disappeared from the Middle East after John wrote the Book of Revelation. We have to help correct this mindset that ignores the faith that has a continued line of existence since the days of the apostles and gave the world the Christian canon (the Bible). I don’t think a mere Arabic letter would cause 3,000 people in one city to become Orthodox believers. But, we need to start some conversations and share our faith and point of view with others.
In Mosul and other parts of Iraq, “Nun” is inspiring solidarity between Christians and their Muslim neighbors. May we find ways to bring love and unity between us before we are forced to by bombs and gun barrels.