In 1714, just before Easter, Constantin Brancoveanu – the Christian ruler of the Romanian Kingdom for 26 years – was taken to Istanbul and imprisoned. His four sons were imprisoned with him. In a typical gesture, the Muslim rulers of the Ottoman Empire gave them the well-known choice: convert to Islam or die. Because they refused to deny Christ, on August 15th (the Dormition Feast), they were all decapitated – first the Christian king’s councillor was beheaded, then all his sons (Matthew, the youngest of them, was 11 years old). The King, his wife and daughters, were forced to witness the public executions. Western diplomats were present; the official representatives of France, England and Russia (among others) felt they could not refuse the Muslim ruler’s invitation. In the end, after the killing of all his sons, the King himself was publicly executed – it was his 60th birthday. Their heads were carried and displayed through Istanbul; their bodies were thrown in the Bosphorus. Today, they are all commemorated as Martyrs.
We are now in 2014, three centuries later; we see Muslim children carrying the heads of the people their fundamentalist parents have murdered. We hear these children calling for more executions. The only difference is that, this time, Western journalists are also killed.
The West may be in shock, but Eastern Europe isn’t. For us, this is just the return of a very recent nightmare. Less than a century ago, the Ottoman Empire was still present here, in our countries. Think about that!
We all – West and East – have so much to learn from each other. The world needs to look at its past – its common past. The West needs to understand that what happens in other parts of the world will one day (very soon, it seems) happen at home, in its own back-yard.
When one visits the thousands of Orthodox monasteries in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, one must learn how to see beyond their exterior beauty and exoticism. All these places are built on harrowing pain and horror, yet they remain living prayers for the peace and salvation of the whole world; for centuries, they’ve held on to a holy stubbornness to not let go of hope, to not let go of love, to not allow hate to win and take over our hearts.
If that happened, if we let go of love and embraced the hatred, we’d be denying Christ; we’d be losing the real battle, the battle these old and new Christian martyrs died for.