Our Past and Our Present with Islam, Fr. Josiah Trenham

October 27, 2014 Length: 1:11:40

Fr. Josiah Trenham speaks about Islam at a clergy retreat for the Carolina Deanery of the Orthodox Church in America.

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V. Rev. Fr. Josiah Trenham: All right, dear brothers. I guess this is part two. I’d like to do two things. I’d like to give you a short history of Islam and the relationship of Islam and Christianity. 1400 years in 20 minutes, okay? Sorry. Then I’d like to do the same on our present. So that’s our past with Islam, and then talk about our present with Islam and just throw out a few realities that have come into existence in the last 13 years, basically post-9/11 American awakening to the Islamic world and some contours of that and exactly what should be in our minds with regards to Islam.

The single most significant historical event in the life of the Church is the rise of Islam. Let me say that again and then defend it. The single most significant event in the development of the Church is the rise of Islam. Nothing in Church history has altered our lives initially or continually more than that, not the schism with Rome, not the non-Chalcedonian conflict, nothing compared to the rise of Islam.

Mohammed was born in 570. By the time that he was dead in 632, Islam had exploded like a bomb out of the Arabian Peninsula. Within a very short time following the death of Mohammed, about half of the Christian empire was lost, about half—in the blink of an eye, by a people group no one took seriously. Bedouins, without written language, with no developed cities. It hit us like a ton of bricks, and it left our people in tears. Think of Patriarch Sophronius, the great St. Sophronius of Jerusalem. He was the one who actually had to deliver the key to the city of Jerusalem into the hands of Caliph Umar, who was the second caliph after Abu Bakr after Mohammed’s death. He conquered Jerusalem and Sophronius knew he was coming. He called for special prayers, we had litanies in all of our services when we heard that they were coming, that they had penetrated through the Christian tribes that served as a buffer between the empire and the Arabian Peninsula, the [Ghassanid] tribes up in the north were Christian Arabs.

Remember that they Arab Peninsula had been affected deeply by both Judaism and Christianity. There were multiple Arab bishops at the First Ecumenical Council; we have their names on the list. We had saints that went to the Arabian Peninsula. Origen went to the Arabian Peninsula to fight against heresy. That’s kind of ironic. St. Gregory of Nyssa was sent there by the Church to defend the Christian faith against some heresies that were arising in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, after the ecumenical councils, especially after the Third Council, many Christian groups that were not accepting the decisions of the ecumenical councils moved east into Persia and into the Arabian Peninsula.

So it’s not like we didn’t know what was there or didn’t have Christian outposts and some serious developments there, not just in the north and the west coming from the Roman Empire, but also in its connection to the south and the west through the Ethiopians. There was a major push going on for Christianity there, yet Sophronius was completely caught off guard and just wept. He met Umar and he brought Umar into the city, and while they were in the Church of the Anastasis, the Holy Sepulcher, the muezzin made his call for one of the five times of prayer, and Umar asked him, “Can I put my rug somewhere? And can I pray?” And he said, “Just put it right here.” And he said, “No, no, no, no. If I put my rug here, this church will be a mosque and it will be claimed by my followers today.” He said, “Oh! Thank you very much for telling me that,” and he put him out on a little porch. That little porch today is still a mosque. There’s still a small mosque attached to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

I’m mentioning that story to you because [of] the ignorance of Islam in our country, to this day, even after 9/11. You would think that we really all would have started reading the Quran and a little bit of Muslim history. That is not what we have done. That’s not at all what we have done. That’s the last thing that our political leaders want us to do, absolutely the last thing. George Bush, you remember, right after 9/11, called for an ecumenical prayer service in the National Cathedral in D.C., and Archbishop Demetrios was there and someone from the OCA was there—Herman was there. But George Bush, God bless him—what am I supposed to say in the South? [Bless his little heart.] Bless his heart! [You can put “little” in there.] Bless his little heart—decided it would also be wise to ask a collection of imams to come and pray, and they did what they had never been able to do but had always wanted to do. They stood in our National Cathedral and said, in Arabic, “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the messenger of God.” They said the Shahada, the confession of Muslim faith, which Umar refused to do in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, because he knew if he did it, all Muslims would consider that space to belong to Allah and to be a holy mosque. While George Bush was literally going [buzzing his finger on his lips], without having to fire weapons, without having to conquer anyone, we invited Islam to come into our National Cathedral and say that.

When Muslims conquered the major cities, they went basically in this order: Jerusalem, Antioch, Aleppo—Aleppo, the second-greatest city in Syria, two million to this day, incredible piece of history; this is also the city of Metropolitan Paul (Yazigi), the brother of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, who was kidnapped on April 22 of last year, hasn’t been heard from or seen since—Jerusalem, Antioch, Aleppo, Caesarea, Gaza, Tripoli, Babylon, Alexandria, Rhodes, and Cyprus. They even pushed up into central Asia, took and then lost Kabul, moved into India, the Indus area there, almost took Western Europe, laid siege to Constantinople. This is not 1453. This is shortly after Mohammed died. All of this was taking place. All of this was taking place like a [snap] lightning-strike.

I’ll describe a little bit. I think have some notes here to describe a little bit about that attack on Constantinople. It took place under the reign of Leo the Isaurian, who was the emperor who started the iconoclastic controversy. One of the reasons he started the iconoclastic controversy was because he was losing so much territory to the Muslims who were killing him and his soldiers just slaughtering us, and they were telling him, they were whispering to unsettle his faith, “This is because you’re idol-worshipers and you have all those icons in your churches and in your cities.” He actually fell for this nonsense.

The Caliph Suleiman sent his brother Maslama with 120,000 Muslim troops—this is like 720—to conquer Constantinople. Can you imagine? That’s like just a little bit less than the high number of American troops we sent to Iraq. These were Muslim troops coming against Constantinople. Leo was a brilliant strategist, and he actually took the chain, this massive chain that they kept stripped across the Bosphorus, and he took it out, visibly, in front of them, to lure them in, which is exactly what happened. He took the chain off, the Muslim ships came in, and then they met for the first time in their lives—Greek fire. Yeah, they met Greek fire. It repulsed them, much to their shock, and they decided they can’t take the city by naval warfare, that instead they were going to lay siege to this city and starve Constantinople to death, which they tried for three years. Thank the Lord, he sent brutal winters and froze most of the army of the Muslims to death, and they ended up leaving, not having conquered the city, and they left, not with 120,000 soldiers: they left in total in five ships. That’s how many were lost.

Thankfully, what helped them leave was that the pagan Bulgarians, who hadn’t yet become Christians, also sent the threat and came into league with Emperor Leo and punished them very severely. The result of that was that the caliph ordered the murder of all Christians—before I tell you this, remember that constant refrain that you hear that there are no forced conversions in Islam and they’ve always treated Christians with respect, blah blah blah. After this defeat, the caliph ordered within the entire Muslim domain, the murder of all Christians. Anyone who would not convert—dead.

They wouldn’t try to take Constantinople again for 700 years, but that was kind of the final push in the century after Mohammed’s death, of the Muslims. That’s how close they got. Remember, Charles Martel was the Hammer, who in 732 stopped them from coming into France, and they took a lot of France; southern France they took. They desecrated St. Martin’s church. They ended up converting the Berber Christians in North Africa who became the Moors who came into Spain and occupied it for seven centuries. I mean, this is a mad, mad drive. What was driving it?

It wasn’t a good-hearted desire to enlighten the world with Islam. That was not what was driving these forces. In fact, these forces didn’t even come with large numbers of Muslims, because there weren’t large numbers of Muslims. Most of the cities that they captured, they left small garrisons. That’s all they could do. They didn’t have any people. They used their violence to provoke converts, and unfortunately a lot of our people did convert. They used their aggressive methods, and they had to leave us in place. For instance, when they conquered Damascus in 638, I think, and the grandfather of St. John of Damascus, who was the governor of the city, gave the key to the Muslims, they left the Christians in place.

St. John of Damascus, who was born in 650, very shortly after the key was given, in 706, when he left Damascus to go become a monk at St. Sava Monastery, to become the preacher of the Church of the Anastasis in Jerusalem, the reason he left was because 706 was the year that the Muslims decreed Christians could no longer occupy authoritative positions in the cities. They needed us for that long so that they could learn from us how to do a sewer system, how to have a tax structure. They didn’t know any of this stuff; they weren’t urban people. They were Bedouins, tent-dwellers, and they were moving into these marvelous cities, and they had to learn architecture, they had to educate Muslims in our universities, which is exactly what happened. But eventually they cast us out, in 706.

What was really driving them was a thirst for plunder, a real aggressive thirst for plunder. One of the ways we know this is that Umar was asked by his soldiers to attack the Greek islands because the Greek islands were so famous for their wealth. Of course, there was the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, that they wanted to see. Muslims were petrified of the ocean. They were not confident at all with regards to ships and going out on the oceans. Umar’s response to the Muslim community was: Greek plunder, or Greek booty, is not worth Muslim blood. It’s a comment that he said to defend himself and his non-aggression, but it also gives you a window into what was really at issue. This is what was at issue: plunder was at issue. He didn’t say the enlightenment of the Greek souls with the submission of Islam is not worth our effort. That wasn’t on the table; that wasn’t what was really driving. It was very great thirst for plunder. Of course, I’ll tell you in a second that this was something very consonant with the life of their founder. Mohammed was someone who himself raided trading caravans, murdered people, took their plunder. I’ll tell you about how he did it to one of the major Jewish tribes in a second.

Besides this mad drive for plunder and this desire for plunder, there was also the sexual holiday that has driven jihad for years. That is that, though Muslim men are only allowed to have four wives and as many concubines as they can pay for—they have to support them and they have to give them promises, not just in conjugal rights but in food and in housing and things like this—but slave girls, that’s different. No responsibilities to these. You get a capture in war: women, they’re yours. They’re yours to do with what you want, sexually, and that is very much still the case. I have a man in my parish who is an FBI undercover agent, and one of his jobs is to liaison with jihadis and imams in America. By the way, we have them here. Of course, you know we have imams here, because we have I think something like 1900 mosques now in America, but jihadis we’re not supposed to have here, but there are plenty.

One of the recent circumstances that he discovered in his conversations that he shared with me was how a Sunni woman, outside of the city of Aleppo in Syria, wanted to go back into Aleppo to her house to get some things, and she was leaving with her sister, and they were told by relatives, “Don’t go. Something could happen to you.” She thought they were ridiculous. She wasn’t Alawite, she wasn’t Shia, she wasn’t Christian, and she thought that by not being those three things, by being Sunni, there’s no way she’s going to pay, that al-Nusra is going to be fine with her.

So she was stopped at a checkpoint into Aleppo, and as she pulled up, they made her get out of the car at gunpoint. She said that they were Sunni. They said, “Prove it.” They made her go into a room and recite prayers in the Sunni way. When they found out and they confirmed that she was Sunni, they took her into a massive warehouse, and when she went into the warehouse, the warehouse was full of naked women—Christian, Shia, and Alawite—who had been captured and were kept in a state of nakedness, perpetual nakedness, for the orgies for the fighters when they came off the fields. This is just how they’re kept.

She was so scared to death that they put her in the back room with the Sunni women who were allowed to stay covered and veiled. Still, one of the soldiers came up to her and said, “I want you for a wife,” and she said, “You can’t have me as your wife. I’m married.” He said, “You’re getting divorced today. And tell your husband you’re divorced.” It was only because she had had a mastectomy because of breast cancer that she wasn’t taken. She said, “You don’t want me. I don’t have a breast. I had cancer.” He said, “Prove it,” and he made a girl go with her and see, and the girl came back and told him, in fact, she’s had a mastectomy. He said, “Fine, you can go back with your husband.” This is three months ago. Three months ago.

Booty and sexual holidays, and these aren’t the only things that drive jihad. Besides that, it’s also Mohammed’s doctrine of paradise and the promises that come to soldiers of jihad who die in battle. You know, the British have that famous saying why it was so hard to fight the Muslims is because when they look at the barrel of your gun, they see paradise. It’s very hard to fight an enemy who looks into the barrel of your gun and sees paradise.

The very accomplished Jewish female Egyptian scholar of Islam, who lives in France now, her name is Bat Ye’or. Perhaps you’ve read some of her works. She has done a tremendous service to the English-speaking world by documenting—she published a 600-page dissertation—of the decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam, simply providing source material to see the consistent decline of the Eastern Christian population in 14 centuries of Muslim domination. She’s also written an excellent book called Dhimmitude, about the way of life for people of the book in Muslim lands, and she also has written a more recent book, although not super-recent, called Eurabia, about the immigration of Muslims into Western Europe and the alterations of classically Christian and Western European societies.

This is the effect that Islam had on the Christian population. We lived, we have lived, in constant tension and regular fear of Islam in the Christian world, in the Christian West, since the rise of Islam itself, and a lot of it is how it initially greeted us. Remember, Mohammed, just before he died, one of the last acts that he did was to send a letter to Chosroes, who was the king of Persia, and to the emperor at the time of Byzantium, who was Heraclius, announcing Allah’s word and the truth and calling for their submission and threatening that if they didn’t submit they would be conquered. This is the end of Mohammad’s life. As a matter of fact, in some of his early biographies, it says that he, before he died, called curses down on Constantinople and promised any jihadi paradise if they would go to fight Constantinople. He had his eyes fixed on the queen of Christian cities.

All of that is simply to suggest to you that the rise of Islam and its continuance has been the most significant historical event in the development of the Church. “Jihad is the most unrecorded and disregarded major event of history.” That’s a quote from the historian Paul Fregosi. He wrote a book called Jihad in the West: [Muslim Conquests] from the 7th to the 21st Centuries, a very excellent book. “Jihad is the most unrecorded and disregarded major event in history.” And he points out that the Encyclopedia Britannica gives the Crusades, which were a temporary and unsuccessful reconquista project to get lands that the Muslims had taken by jihad, the Crusades have 88 times the scope in the Encyclopedia Britannica than the entry for jihad has.

The goal of jihad is the extension of Islamic rule over the whole world. Unlike Christianity that divides the whole world into two, like Islam, we divide it into those areas that have been enlightened with the Gospel and those areas that have not. This is a typical way for a Christian to understand the world: Christianized, unChristianized; received the message of the Gospel and preachers, not received the message of the Gospel and preachers. In Islam, it’s not that way. The whole world is divided into two houses. The house of Islam is that place not where they’re a collection of Muslims but where Muslim law rules. The distinction in Christian minds between Church and state, religion and politics does not exist.

The late Ayatollah Khomeini of Persia, of Iran, said, “Islam is not politics. Islam is nothing.” And this is absolutely true. Mohammad never said anything similar to Jesus when he said, “Render unto God the things that are God’s and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” No such distinction exists in Islam. This is also why Islam has never produced any type of political arrangement like we know in the West. No representative democracies whatsoever. And in the collection, I think there are 53 countries that are in the Islamic country council—one has had an attempt to present itself as a representative democracy, which is Turkey, and that’s only because of Ataturk, who moved his country very far away from the normative law, the Sharia law, of Islam, and that is definitely going in reverse in Turkey right now.

The goal for Islamic rule is for the extension of the law over all the world so that Mohammed’s words about Allah would be embraced, and all the world would submit to the word of Allah. The principle or the phrase that the pirates said, “Your money or your life,” is the principle behind jihad. You have an option in Christian lands: you can convert to Islam, you can die, or you can pay—if you’re the people of the book. If you’re a land of pagans, you can convert or die, but if you’re Christians or Jews, in best-case scenario, you have a third option, which is to pay the jizya tax, and that tax is determined by Muslims. It is not paid by Muslims; it is only paid by people of the book, Christians, and there is a ceremony for paying it which includes bringing your tax to the tax collector, bowing your head, and having him smack the top of your head—so that you know that you are living at the grace of the Muslims, and you are not their equal.

It is true, I think, that our country has suffered especially of late from imperial hubris. We are the only imperial power in the world, and we certainly have occupied the world. I think our soldiers are in something like 160 countries, which is utterly, totally ridiculous, but that’s an aberration. In Islam, it’s an enthroned principle. Talk about Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny provided a cover, an ideological cover, for the mistreatment of many Native Americans in our country, perhaps nowhere worse than in my state, which very few people know about, because it was such an old story by then. But Manifest Destiny is at the heart of the whole Islamic view of the world. It is their belief that the whole world is destined to be under Islamic rule and it is the duty of Muslims to agitate for this and to work for this by every means possible.

Whole histories have been written and could continue to be written for the history of jihad, not just in Europe but in Central Asia, in Africa, in India, in Southeast Asia. We hear a lot about push-back from the Middle East and from Muslims about European colonization from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, and a lot of that criticism we are very sensitive to in the West as the European powers really messed with the Middle East and colonized. But we should point out that that is in contradistinction to 1300 years of Muslim colonization. I mean, did Emperor Heraclius invite Mohammed into his lands? Did he say, “Come, conquer North Africa and all the Syrian and Arabian provinces?” No, he did not. They were taken by him by violence, by force, at the cost of many, many Christian lives.

This is a very aggressive colonization, much longer than the Western European colonization of Middle Eastern lands. That’s not to justify the Western European colonization; it’s simply to point out if you want to compare the two, there’s simply no comparison. Just imagine, during the European colonization, what the life of the Muslims were. How many actually converted to European religions? Very few. Now compare the Muslim colonization of Christian lands and how many Christians actually converted to Islam because the circumstances were so bad. We lost huge segments of our population. This is why you can go to Kosovo, this is why you can go to Bosnia, and you can see Muslims who are not Arabs, Muslims who are not Persians, they’re not Turks—they’re former Orthodox Christians whose parents…

I remember once being in Istanbul and I was being served; I was having pizza. I was in civvies, and this really nice waiter came up to me and said, “It’s so nice to have a priest here.” What the heck? I was in civilian clothes, eating pizza and drinking beer, and I’m like: What? I said, “How did you know that?” He goes: “Your shoes.” I could never figure that out. I was wearing black shoes. I don’t know what it was. And then I looked at his name tag. I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Kappadokia.” I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I looked at his name tag: Basil. Basil from Kappadokia: isn’t that interesting? I said to him, “Do you know about your name?” He said, “Oh, yeah, it was a very famous man from the area where I come from.” I said, “Yeah, but do you know anything about him, like who Basil is?” He said, “Not really.” I said, “You could really do yourself a big favor if you just Googled, went online and looked up who he is, because he’s the best. He’s the absolute best.” But that’s the reality. We have families that became Muslim because it was that or die, and they’re still there and they’re still naming their children after the Cappadocian Fathers a very, very long time later.

The long-term result of this history that we had with Muslims that came through jihad is the establishment of dhimmitude. We became dhimmi peoples. Let me tell you what dhimmi peoples are. Dhimmi peoples have been conquered by Muslims and are allowed to live in a second-class condition in Muslim lands with relative peace. The standards for dhimmitude come from Mohammad’s example of how to treat certain people, although that changed very much; also from the hadith, which are collections of stories about Mohammed that are not found in the Quran. The Quran is a very occasional document; it’s like you’re reading a newspaper: different revelations that come; there’s no obvious chronological pattern to the Quran. If you’re a New Testament reader your whole life and you read the Quran you’re going to be completely bummed out, because there’s just absolutely no comparison with regards to depth of teaching or mystery or anything like that. You really can’t understand the Quran unless you read the Quran in connection with the hadith and with the stories that provide a context for what’s happening in the Quran.

But from the Quran and from Mohammed’s example and also from the law of Islam called Sharia, all of which together, together with the life, the sira, they’re called, the official lives of Mohammed all form the sunnah, which is the inspired literature of Islam. That has created a fairly consistent—even though there’s four fundamental legal schools in Islam, they share a common core about how non-Muslims in Muslim lands should live. This is how our people for 14 centuries have lived. They’ve lived in dhimmitude, and I want to give you just a little insight into what it would have meant if you were living as a dhimmi people in Muslim’s lands.

There was a special tax system that had religious components. When the Muslims initially conquered half of the empire, they took a massive census, down to the trees: numbers of animals, acres of land, numbers of trees. All of this was taxed. There was initial land ownership tax. Then there was the poll tax that was a head tax for Christians. They were paid to the tax collector. Then there were all sorts of rules for life for Christians. You had to wear distinctive dress. You actually had to have a belt, a little belt around your waist, so that any Muslim could identify you as a Christian. Don’t think that if was Adolf Hitler who came up with the idea of distinctive dress for religious categories, Jews wearing those horrible armbands. This is something that the Muslims had been practicing for centuries and centuries.

If you were a Christian greeting a Muslim on the street, you were not allowed, according to Sharia law, to be greeted by the Muslim with the greeting of peace, which is very common to offer that peace in Arabic. You have to keep to your own side of the street. You’re not allowed to construct buildings for home, work, or church that were as high as Muslim buildings. You could not openly display wine, pork, or the cross, including wearing it on your person in an obvious way. You were not allowed to ring bells or to recite the Gospel or the Torah aloud.

In fact, one of the unique realities, for instance, under Bashar al-Assad in Syria is that a lot of our churches, and there are a lot of Antiochian churches, almost universally, even if you’re a small church, you have a small bell-tower, and it’s usually detached from the church. You may think, “What is this? Is this the Antiochian-Russian connection?” That is a big deal, and it has been a big deal for a long time, but what’s with all these bell-towers? Way more than you would see a bell-tower in Greece, for instance. It’s not. It’s the fact that, under Assad and his father, lots of freedom exists for Christians, because Sharia law is not applied and the Muslim Brotherhood is suppressed and has been suppressed since the late ‘70s. Christians build bell-towers to show their freedom. It’s a proclamation that they’re not under that kind of Muslim domination.

You’re not allowed to make public displays at funerals or feast days. This includes processions, so our typical Pascha processions or Palm Sunday processions cannot happen under Sharia. You can’t reside for more than three days in the sacred land of Saudi Arabia between Medina and Mecca. You lose all legal protection if you as a Christian do any of the following: commit adultery with a Muslim woman—you’re dead; marry a Muslim woman, which is forbidden under Sharia: Muslim men can marry Christian woman, but Muslim women cannot marry Christian men; if you conceal spies of hostile forces, and of course this was something that our patriarchs suffered from many times, because they could have a visiting priest come to their chancery from a part of the empire, and that priest at any time could, if the caliph or the pasha thought that that person was undesirable, would be accused of being a spy, and the patriarch could be killed; if you lead anyone away from Islam by sharing the Gospel, you will die.

You can’t mention anything impermissible about either Allah or Mohammad. If you read the neo-martyrs of the Ottoman yoke, for instance, if you read some collections of our martyrs under the Ottomans, this is one of the most common ways that our forefathers lost their lives. They fell out, maybe they had a business dispute with a Turk, and the Turk would simply say, “He blasphemed Mohammad. He said something bad about Allah”—dead, done, over with. As a matter of fact, this is still going on. It’s still going on in Pakistan today, very much so.

You are excluded from public office. You can’t hold authority over a Muslim, so any position like a clerk or any place where someone would have to come to you to get permission, Christians cannot be in those spots because then the Muslim would then be in a position of submission to the Christian, which cannot happen. There was no equality before the law, especially with regards to oath-taking. Inter-faith litigation was a nightmare. I’ll read you a quote from a very famous French consul, Averroes, after he had spent quite a long time in Turkey:

It will always be impossible to prove that a Turk is a false witness, and a Turk will never give evidence against another Turk in favor of a Christian. That is their custom; that is their constant practice. We French are regarded as infidels whose testimony should not be recognized in law.

That’s just how it is. Of course, the lex talionis which is the standard for civil jurisprudence from the time of Moses that most countries have accepted in order to prevent revenge and establish equality does not apply between Muslims and Christians, on any matter. Especially you can see this, for instance, in military negotiations between Muslim and non-Muslim powers, when they would be doing prisoner swaps. The Muslim leaders would insist that they would be able to get a lot more of their men back for an exchange because Muslim blood is far more precious to Allah than Christian blood.

Our places of worship: no building would be able to built, no churches are able to be built. We should be able to exist with just our present churches, and I should just tell you up front that the average that most scholars proposed within the first 100 years of Islamic occupation, the average is 60% of churches were lost. 60% of churches and monasteries were lost in the initial taking-over by Muslims, and those that remained… We could not build new churches. We were not, of course, allowed to grow except by reproduction. We were not allowed to convert any Muslims, which of course is a bond on the apostolic nature of the Church, something that we’ve never cooperated with. We always find secret ways to do this, which I’ll mention some of them in part two. Even when we need to repair: let’s say we have a storm with a hole in the roof, we have to go get permission from the local Muslim authority, and of course he’s going to charge us a fee, and that fee is going to depend upon whether they’re happy with us or not.

Christians couldn’t be buried in Muslim cemeteries. In fact, our cemeteries were often very disregarded. I don’t know if you saw on the news or on YouTube the desecration of British cemeteries in Libya after the Benghazi catastrophe. Horrible—all the crosses in the cemeteries where the British soldiers had defended Libya, had been buried on Libyan soil, had been desecrated, and some of their tombs were even dug up.

This is also a quote from Dr. Ye’or, Bat Ye’or. She says—it’s a very profound quote—“The whole history of the Islamic conquests is punctuated with forced conversions.” This is by one of the top three Muslim scholars in the world, and she says it’s not just an occasional forced conversion, let alone no forced conversion; it is the entire history of Muslim conquest: punctuated by forced conversions.

Housing segregation: Christian quarters. Christians had to stay in their quarters. Often those quarters had no services or very limited services. Transportation requirements: dhimmi people were not allowed to ride on horses or camels. They were sometimes allowed to ride donkeys, and if they were riding a donkey they were required to dismount if they were passing by a Muslim. No dhimmis were allowed to bear arms. And there were all sorts of physical gestures required of us. We had to have our doors on our houses lower than Muslim doors. If you go to Damascus, to the old part of Damascus today, you can see the Christian quarter, and their businesses are built three feet underground, so that if any Muslim is buying something from a Christian, he’s looking down on you. Can’t be looking face to face.

A Christian must remain standing in a Muslim’s presence and speak only when asked and in a low voice. This is Sharia. By the way, those things are proscribed in the law. A great English translation of the law of Islam is called the Reliance of a Traveler. If you ever wanted to read an English copy of the Sharia, that’s a good place to do it. This is dhimmitude.

So Islam came like a bomb, conquered, has continued to be aggressively trying to push forward. Our life, where we survived, was the life of dhimmitude. I should just say a word about the Crusades. The Crusades have been demonized, not just by Muslims but also by Western secular intellectuals, and it’s important to point out that the Crusades… Well, first, as Orthodox we have to be careful, because a lot of times we like to blame the Latins for the Crusades. I’m not saying we can’t do that, but we have to be pretty humble, because the first Crusade in 1094 took place at the request of Emperor Alexios Comnenos, one of our great emperors. We actually asked the pope and the Western soldiers to come on our behalf and fight. After that it really went bad, even at the end of the first Crusade, and the successive Crusades were not to our liking, especially the fourth one. Constantinople was sacked and our bishops and priests were murdered and our nuns raped on our altars. That was definitely a sign that the Schism had taken place and was definitive. We did, however, slaughter tens of thousands of Latins 20 years before that in Constantinople. So it was kind of a mutual hatred society.

But the Crusades, remember, even at their worst—even at their worst—were temporary projects attempting to recover the holiest sites of the Christian faith, to recover Christian property that had been seized and stolen. It’s the height of hypocrisy for Muslims to criticize us. And they’re still calling us the Crusaders today. This is still the most popular term to describe the West by the jihadis today. We are “the Crusaders.” I don’t know what you should call them when they came and took our lands.

So that’s a little bit about simply our past. I’d like now just for a few minutes if I can to talk about our present with Islam, and then we can go wherever you guys want to go.

The sense that Islam was demonic and a tremendous threat to Christians is very ancient and consistent. The first Christian commentator on Islam was St. John of Damascus. We know that he addressed Islam. We know that he was bilingual: Greek and Arabic. We know that he was taught the early siras of the Quran, and despite Muslim insistence that the Quran dropped from heaven and that there is no history of textual criticism or recension of the Quran, in fact St. John addresses that and lets us know that that’s not the case. He calls the Quran “a silly little book” and gives you some examples from different siras about the cow and other things that he thought were rather ridiculous.

He also points out what even many Muslim commentators and biographers of Mohammed point out, and that is that Mohammed thought initially that he was demon-possessed. When he was in Mount Hira and he was receiving his first revelation, it didn’t come like the uncreated light. It came with anxiety, with depression, and utter, unspeakable fear. He went back to Khadija, his first wife. He hid, and he asked her to cover him with blankets until he could calm down. He actually told her, “I think I’m demon-possessed.” St. John of Damascus says, “You were.” This is what he says in his treatise. This is On the Heresies, and also he has another treatise in which he deals with a Christian and a Muslim.

Go ahead some centuries to, let’s say, the Latin West in the late 13th century, there’s a pope, very famous pope, Innocent III. Innocent III made a prediction about the end of the world. He predicted that the world would end in 1288. The reason that he predicted that the world would end in 1288 is because it was exactly 666—yes, let me say that again—666 years after the death of Mohammed. I’m mentioning this just because it gives you a window into kind of the mentality that gripped the Christian West and associating Islam as a tremendous scourge and a dangerous scourge.

You guys will like this also, a bit of trivia from Innocent III. He also is famous for a catechism that he published, and in that catechism he gives practical instructions of how to keep a prayer rule, and he teaches his people to make sure that they make the sign of the cross properly, from the right to the left. I’ve always tried to figure out when the Latins made the change from from-the-right-to-the-left to from-the-left-to-the-right. I can say at least it’s post-Pope Innocent III; it’s post-1300. So if you find out, I want to know. Tell me, please; send me an email.

Since 9/11, our country has had tremendous new awareness of the Muslim world, and we Orthodox Christians have a tremendous role to play. We haven’t played it thus far. We haven’t played the important role we should be playing, both our churches and the Copts also have a tremendous role to play. They’ve been doing a much better job at interacting with the American government than we have. You remember the depth of our irrelevance at the time under Bill Clinton when he was bombing Serbia and what’s-her-name—Albright—our Secretary of State, refused even to meet with our bishops, and she told several of our bishops on the phone, “I don’t know who speaks for you. I can’t meet with you.” Classic commentary, window into how the powers that be look at us in our ridiculous jurisdictional dysfunction. We try to pretend that everything’s okay, but when it really mattered and we needed to get a voice to the president of the United States collectively and tell him, “Don’t bomb Serbia on Pascha”—which is exactly what he did; he would never bomb on a Muslim holy day—he bombed Serbia on Pascha. We couldn’t get through because of our divisions.

We’re the only Christian group that has lived with Muslims for 14 centuries. We know how it goes. We know the best times, we know the worst times, we know in between. We know what’s possible. This is why universally the foreign policy of America has been opposed by all of the Orthodox patriarchs in the Middle East. Our patriarchs wrote letters to our last five presidents, asking them not to do the things that they are doing. My late patriarch, Ignatius IV, wrote a letter to President Obama when President Obama was thinking and the Syrian crisis was heating up; this is just before Ignatius died. Ironically, in his letter, he says, “Please, President, do not liberate us. We’re begging you. Have you heard of people who are supposedly in bondage, begging people who have power not to liberate them?” He was using the language of America, but he knew what American liberation meant—extermination, as it’s meant for most of the Christians in Iraq and as it has meant pain for the Egyptians as well.

I don’t know if any of you saw, but a couple of weeks ago, maybe three weeks, there was a very important meeting in Washington, D.C., a gala—it was called IDC: In Defense of Christians in the Middle East—and they brought patriarchs from all over the world. Nothing like this has ever happened. Lots of these patriarchs had never even been here. They got them all together and they had congressmen there and senators there. Someone—I don’t know how this could have happened, but someone invited Senator Ted Cruz to speak to them. How? Who could have possibly done that? I don’t understand it. I really don’t understand it. I called my friend, Fr. Nathanael Symeonides, and I said, I asked him—he works in the Greek Archdiocese in New York City, and I asked him, “Fr. Nathanael, who in the world did that? Did you see on the news what happened?” He says, “Are you kidding me? I was there in the stupid room. It was unbelievable.”

He walked in and said that the greatest friend of Christians in the Middle East is the state of Israel. Talk about—I don’t know if he was ill-prepared, his handlers just didn’t clue him in, or if he intentionally did that to get Jewish lobby support. I don’t know what happened, but our interaction with Christians from the Middle East in our country, it has… This is just an example of just how sad and unproductive it has been, and this is really our job. We Orthodox can say a lot, and not just Antiochian Orthodox. The Russians, too. The Russians have a long history with Islam and dealing with Islam, and have a lot to contribute, too, to this question.

In most of the Western world, the relationship to Islam has catapulted into a major, major social and political issue. Our forefathers knew a lot about Islam. There’s a lot of material in the founding fathers of America that address the issue of Islam. They even knew a lot about Islamic jihad. Remember, the Barbary pirates were a huge deal, really provoked the creation of the American navy in order to defend our ships from Muslim pirates. [From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…]

But something really radical happened in the ‘60s that has definitively altered our relationship with Islam, and that has been the changing of our immigration laws. As a result of the civil rights movement we altered—not just us, but all of Western Europe did this, and they’re all seriously regretting it and considering altering it presently—we removed the religious quotas from immigration. It used to be that we allowed only a certain percent of non-Christians to come to our land and the same of Western Europe. So we kept non-Christian populations who would have difficulty assimilating into our cultures, we kept those populations low. We jettisoned those religious quotas; they don’t exist any more.

For Western Europe this has been catastrophic change. 5.5 million Pakistanis and Indians now in Britain. Millions of Turks in Germany, millions of Algerians and Tunisians who have come into France. You’ve been following what’s been happening in Denmark. I mean, Denmark is on the edge. It is on the edge. In all of these countries there has been serious reconsideration about this. Pope John Paul II, just before he died, sent a letter to the Italian parliament, asking the Italian parliament to alter its immigration laws and to re-insert religious quotas, in his word, “or Italy will no longer be Catholic.” He could see what was happening with this unrestricted immigration.

And the Muslims are very clear about it. You can watch YouTube videos of the marches of Muslims. They usually don’t get to the popular press. In any of the Western European countries, Muslims are very aggressive. Some are even marching in support of the Islamic State—in London! They have 60 jihadis who are in prison now in London who have come back in the last two weeks from fighting with the Islamic State, and they’ve imprisoned them, but there are over 550 who have come back, and they have just started imprisoning them, so in their estimates there something like 490 ISIS fighters who have returned to Britain now, and they’re there in Britain. This is a recipe for disaster, a recipe for disaster.

It hasn’t been as upsetting to America because, although we also changed our immigration laws, we weren’t so close to the Muslim world, so most of our immigrants have come from Latin American countries and from Asia and Southeast Asia, mostly Christians, so the assimilation issues haven’t been as big for us. We don’t have the huge Muslim-French riots that went on two or three years ago in France that really upset the country. We don’t have whole cities and townships in Britain that British police don’t go into. I mean, I don’t know if you saw that sex slavery thing in Shropshire that just was exposed. It was hundreds of girls who were raped and abused, and the Brits wouldn’t even get anywhere near them because they’re being done by Muslims. In Bradford, in Birmingham, there are cities…

There’s a great book written by a British journalist named Melanie Phillips, and the book is called Londonistan, about huge sections of London that the Muslim Brits have actually petitioned for an in many cases obtained separate legal jurisdiction, so they have Sharia law enforced. Honor killings are simply not being punished at all. Polygamy: there are over 20,000 known polygamist marriages of Muslims in Great Britain that the country is doing absolutely nothing about.

So this is what’s happening in Western Europe. It’s a whole new relationship with Islam, and when you combine that with the onset of the sexual revolution, with the success, the meteoric success of Margaret Sanger and the Pill, and the decline of the reproduction rate of Western Europeans so that the reproduction rate is like 1.2, when you have a demographic ice age together with massive, aggressive Muslim immigration… And it’s a statistical fact that Muslims who immigrate into Western Europe and America radicalize more and become more seriously religious than the people at home. They do this because they come into our lands and they don’t like them.

They come into our lands and they’re taught that we’re just secular wastelands, which half the time we are, and they don’t want to assimilate at all, because why would you want to assimilate to a country that’s embarrassed of itself? We have our president going around the world saying we’re not a Christian nation when, objectively, there are a higher percentage of Americans self-identifying as Christians today than at any time in our entire history. I’m not trying to say that we’re living [as] Christians; I’m just saying we give people the benefit of a doubt to recognize them as what they say they are, and more Americans are saying they’re Christians than at any [other] time.

That’s combined with the fact, the truth, that Diana Eck in her really good book on religious pluralism in America that won that huge humanitarian award under Bill Clinton—she served him—she argues that America is the most religiously pluralistic country in the world, which it is. She also poorly argues that therefore we shouldn’t call ourselves a Christian nation. I would suggest exactly the opposite of that, that, yes, we are the most religiously pluralistic. We at the same time have the highest percentage of people who are Christians, self-identify as Christian, and the fact that we are Christians has contributed to us being the most tolerant and pluralistic in the [world]. We can affirm both, but we’re not. So all of that is to say that Muslims are coming here and they’re finding a culture that’s dying, that’s only keeping its population stable by immigration, families that are having kids—and they’re having a lot of kids. They’re coming here on average having five kids a family, which is 2.5 times what the typical American is. They’re finding Americans…

You know, we used to give a New Testament to everyone who came to America. We gave them—this is our boast. How can you understand America, how can you understand our political statements, how can you understand our books, our American literature, if you don’t know the Bible? It’s not possible! We gave people New Testaments. Since the immigration reform laws we don’t do that. We just, we’re embarrassed of ourselves. A great example would be in the letter that the president of William and Mary wrote to Fr. John in response to your letter. That is such a classic depiction of a person who hates himself, hates his country, and is so embarrassed about it. They’re only finding new life to be proud of America because we’re supporting “transgendered laws” or sexual anarchy that’s somehow supposed to be something really great.

We find ourselves in this extremely unique situation, where Islam is a pressing issue in a way that it has never been in our country’s history or in Western Europe’s history, that they’re actually here. Muslims have come and Islam have come, and we’ve invited them, and they’ve been able to accomplish what’s very similar to the Roman Catholic Church in the last 50 years. What the Protestant Reformers could not get done, the Roman Catholic Church did to itself. They took the request of the Protestant Reformers and they put them onto themselves and they have decimated their population. They’ve lost 95 percent since 1950, 95% of their monks and nuns. That’s also more than a hemorrhage. They’ve lost 75% of their school students. They had six million kids in parochial schools in 1960; they have 1.5 million kids in their schools today, and a lot of their schools are very much no different than public and secular schools. My two oldest sons I put through Catholic high school, and maybe there was a little difference. There was a little difference, but not much, not much, certainly in the culture. Similar percentages of drug use, similar percentages of sexual activity in both.

What should we do? What is the call of the hour for Orthodox Christians in relationship to our country and also to our Muslim compatriots in this country. I should throw out that the communities, the Orthodox communities and the Muslim communities [are] very similar in numbers and size. It’s really an important comparison for us to keep our eyes on, statistically. There are about 2,000 mosques, maybe a little less. I think we have, in best case scenarios, 2,300 Orthodox churches. We have about 800,000 active Orthodox in this country. That is a number that was derived from American Orthodox pastors, so forgive me I think it’s the most accurate number. We can say five or six million all we want, but our pastors know who come to church, and this is the number our pastors gave us. The people that they know, that they actually could name as Orthodox Christians, we have 800,000 in this country. So we should watch.

The Muslims have, in the last 15 years, started 1100 Muslim academies. They’re doing now exactly what the Catholics did at the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. They’re recognizing that their kids can’t go to American schools and remain Muslim, just like Catholics recognized that they can’t go to Protestant schools in America and remain Catholic. So they have dug deep. There’s a little mosque near me. It’s on a half an acre, mostly Palestinians. They have a school, K-8, with 110 kids in it. They’re doing what it takes to shelter their kids and to nourish their kids on the pride of Islam. We should keep a close eye.

They’ve also done incredible things to build bridges between themselves. Shia and Sunni are literally murdering each other all over the Middle East; in America, you don’t hear about it, do you? In America, complete collaboration. They have a common economic council. They have a common Islamic affairs council that interacts with the government. They have common lobby that accuses everybody and their mother of homophobia—not homophobia, sorry; other issue—Islamophobia. They are organized. They have organized on secular campuses all over the country Islamic awareness week, where they have a full week of explanation of Islam and its teachings. They are aggressive, and they know who they are.

I think to myself: These are people who don’t have the Holy Spirit, who aren’t in the body of Christ, and they’re overcoming centuries-old violent conflict for the sake of their faith, and we can’t actually come together as Orthodox Christians and abolish our abominable jurisdictions and have a common education, have a common witness to America? Really we should. We should compare ourselves to them and we should keep a close eye on them and use that as a litmus test for us and for our success. If they can do it and have tremendous influence, what about us?

They are shaping the conversation in America about Islam. They are absolutely shaping it. They have many Americans convinced that jihad has nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with violence and that a small cadre of violent extremists are ruining the name of a religion of peace. They have actually… Our talking-head presidents [of] both parties have been repeating that line. So have Western Europeans until late—until late. Now we’re seeing a big change. Angela Merkel has announced publicly that “multiculturalism is an abject failure.”

So the Europeans are facing whether they can recover, whether they can actually escape what’s happening to them. Who knows, especially with their birth numbers? I’ve read some statistics that say once you get below 1.5 it’s impossible to recover your culture, historically; you’re on your way out. I’m an Anglo-Saxon. Anglo-Saxon culture is almost dead. It will be dead soon. It’s almost dead. It’s a shock to look at your own ethnicity and to see that it is on a suicide march, an aggressive suicide march. What do we do? What do we do? I just want to throw out a couple of things and then we can talk about whatever you want to talk about.

I think we need to speak the truth both about ourselves, both about our country and about Islam, which means that we should step up about who we are and not allow America to be defined apart from her own people. If over 70% of her own people are self-identifying as Christian, how is it that we can let our political leaders go around the world and tell people we’re not a Christian nation? Frankly, we’re the only people who think that. You go anywhere else in the world, they all know we’re a Christian nation—certainly in the Middle East they all know we’re a Christian nation. We’re the only ones who don’t know we’re a Christian nation, even though the vast majority of our people self-identify as Christians. That is nuts.

And also we need to speak the truth about Islam. Of course, when we’re speaking the truth objectively about Islam, its teaching and Islamic history, I’m not suggesting at any time that we mistreat Muslims or that we think that all Muslims who have come here are raving jihadis and don’t appreciate America. In fact, there are lots of Muslims who are trying to reform Islam. They’re not having much success. There are also lots of Muslims who very much like living in the West and don’t want to go back. But we have before us a tremendous opportunity that we should not miss. We have been sending missionaries into Islamic lands for 14 centuries, and they have been relatively unsuccessful.

There are places, even today there are small places where Muslims are becoming Christians. For instance, in Georgia—I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the reports—there are whole towns, areas of Georgia, where several hundred thousand Muslims—they were, of course, former Georgian Orthodox Christians who had become Muslim and they’re all now returning to their faith; this is also happening in Russia. So there are places where large numbers are becoming Christians. I’ve read several reports of imams whining terribly in sadness over the number of Africans who are becoming Christians who were nominal Muslims. This is also happening a little bit in Southeast Asia. So there are places where Christianity is making progress, but in general we have not succeeded in sending missionaries to Muslim lands because of the principles of Islam.

I don’t know if I told you this or if I just told it at Fr. John’s church. I remember one… I spent the summer of 1987 in Pakistan. We were in the northern part, and we sent some time in the city of Peshawar, which is on the western part, right where the Afghanistan border is, right over the Khyber Pass. The Afghanis were fighting the Soviets at the time, and I was staying in this hospital. All the Christians there that we were meeting with were all doctors, nurses, and physicians, and that’s why they were so unharrassed, because if they kicked us out, their medical services would just plummet, so they left us there, even though, in all the cities I went to, the Christians pointed the torture chambers out in the city where they would torture Muslims who were contemplating becoming Christians or had become Christians. The wounded, the war wounded, would come over on donkeys and they would be served by the Christians in these hospitals. As a matter of fact, these hospitals had plumbing, and one of the biggest problems was that the Afghans had never seen plumbing before, and their women would always put Afghani rocks in their pockets to wipe their butts because they said the Pakistani rocks were too rough. Then they would wipe their butts and put them into the toilets and clog all their plumbing. [Laughter] Anyway, whew, very interesting!

There were leper colonies there, too, that the Christians were in. What a beautiful Christian witness. I remember once sitting down with a young Pakistani who had become a Christian. He had only been a Christian two years, and he told the story in front of us all that when he told his family that he had become a Christian, his dad without hesitation stood up from the table, went out in the backyard, got a shovel out of the shed, and came to smash his head and kill him. On the spot. He ran; he escaped his father and hadn’t seen his family in two years, because he knew if he saw his family he would be murdered. I mean, when you have that going against you in the preaching of the Gospel, this is a huge, huge problem.

My point is that they’re here. Muslims are here. This is our opportunity, this is our time to graciously reach out to the Muslim population and give them—engage our Muslim friends with the New Testament. Give them the New Testament, talk to them about the Church, invite them to church. There are Muslims who are becoming Christians in this country and are becoming spokesmen for the idea of becoming Christians. Many more books are coming out from Christian converts.

It would seem to me to be natural for the Orthodox to be involved in that, because Muslims can be much more comfortable in Orthodox Christianity than they can in any other form of Christianity. All the five tenets of Islam come right from us. Mohammed stole the good things of his religion. I remember one time I was in Turkey, and I think I was in Antakya in the east (ancient Antioch), and it was early in the morning. I was awakened by Byzantine tone five! [Laughter] I said, “What the heck!?” I was there with Bishop Basil. I said, “It’s tone five!” He goes, “Yeah, it is.” And it was! It was the muezzin up there calling to prayer in the most gorgeous tone five. It was one of the most beautiful things. I was just listening to it: oh my gosh!

And of course, throughout Turkey they have Byzantine architecture everywhere. They’ve copied Agia Sophia and Ss. Sergius and Bacchus and St. Irini, and they’ve multiplied it on their mosques in Istanbul and many other places. Pilgrimage, fasting, zakat (almsgiving): these are things that are so natural in our faith. They have connections in our faith, and all of these principles, all of these so-called “pillars of Islam.” We even have jihad, but we have jihad the way that they say they have it. Mohammed did describe two types of jihad in the Quran, what he called the greater jihad and the lesser jihad. The greater jihad was an interior struggle, trying to strive to become a virtuous person; lesser jihad was the political struggle that you were supposed to go through to get to the greater jihad, because you needed to establish political peace before you can get involved in the greater jihad.

The problem is that Mohammed blessed over 65 military campaigns, often against innocent people. He led 27 of them himself. When your leader does that kind of stuff, when he goes and covets the treasure of Kinana, the leader of the Jews in Khaybar, and he says, “Give me all your money,” and Kinana says, “No,” and then he has him tied down and lights his chest on fire and kills the man and then takes his widow and sleeps with her that night, and you consider him, as a Muslim, to be the perfect man who should be emulated by all, that is not a great contribution to peaceful relations with non-Muslims. We have a very serious problem. Mohammed is not just the Arabic Jesus in any way. I’m suggesting that we should reach out; we should reach out to Muslims—this is a tremendous opportunity—and help them.

I have a few Muslim converts in my parish, and they’re fantastic. They’re Persians; they’re Iranians. For them, it’s been a very easy and wonderful conversion.

Q1:  What converts them, besides Christ? What is the way that we should approach a Muslim?

Fr. Josiah: You know, in the case of the two women I’m talking about, they were converted by… They came here. They moved to America to go to school, and they met Christian people that gave them a positive disposition to Christians. And then, in their work they met one of my parishioners who was an Orthodox man. He liked them, and he took her out on a couple of dates, and then he told her, “Look, I’m not going to marry a Muslim, and do you know anything about it?” And that just started a kind of a conversation. So she had the motivation besides faith. She had the motivation of someone that she was interested in, but I think even short of a prime opportunity like that, where a potential marriage would facilitate conversion, it’s simply the opportunity to interact and to discuss, freely. Remember, Muslims in their own lands cannot do that. A lot of them are very interested. The internet has had tremendous influence on people becoming Christian in the Middle East, because they can do it fairly anonymously, without getting into big trouble.

You know one of the best evangelists who has untold numbers of converts is the Coptic priest Zacharias, who is in hiding in San Diego. He’s a master of… First of all, he’s very educated in the Scriptures, but he’s also as educated in the Quran. All he would do on his TV show in Egypt is he would sit in a chair, and he would have one hand on the Bible—in a nice two-armed chair—one hand on the Bible, one hand on the Quran. And he would say, he would just raise an issue. He would read from the Quran something crazy. He’d talk about the satanic verses or he would talk about some Muslim teaching, really shocking, about women or something. And then he would say, “Do you know this? Just open your Quran at home,” and he would have them go—chapter, look at the sira 65, the third verse, and then he would read it in his perfect Arabic. People didn’t even know their Quran as well as [he]; he would teach them. Then he would say, “Now let’s talk about Jesus,” and then he would open the Gospel.

He fled there because of death threats. As a matter of fact, I’ve done a couple of these kind of retreats, clergy retreats, for the Coptic Diocese of Los Angeles, which is a massive diocese, over 40 churches, and the usual size of the church—they have their own bishop, Serapion, there—and the size of all of the churches are of 2,000 families. They’re processing new immigrant families constantly. I asked a priest; I said, “I want to meet Fr. Zacharias.” They said, “You can’t.” I said, “Why not?” They said, “We don’t even know where he is.” He’s blessed. He has an altar in a house, somewhere in San Diego, but even the priests of his own diocese don’t know where he is, because he’s still broadcasting, he’s still evangelizing.