This past weekend, I saw for the first time, The Passion of Joan of Arc, the 1928 French silent film, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and starring Maria Falconetti.  The film, considered by many as among the finest in cinema history, depicts St. Joan’s trial, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom.  Interestingly, the original version was lost early on after a fire destroyed the master negative, but in 1981, an employee at a Norwegian mental hospital found several film canisters of the original film in a janitor’s closet.  At the screening, the magnificent film was accompanied by composer Richard Einhorn’s 1994 oratorio based upon the film entitled, “Voice of Light.”  It was a deeply intense and powerful experience.  Throughout the film, however, I remembered those who are being persecuted for their Christian faith.  As I watched the film, I thought of Pastor Saeed Abedini, the American citizen being held in the notorious Evin Prison in Iran for his Christian faith.

For many Christians living in the United States, stories of martyrs such as St. Joan of Arc ended long ago.  However, regular readers of Touchstone and Mere Comments know that the persecution of Christians did not die out with Ben Hur.  Nor did Christian persecution and martyrdom end with St. Joan’s relative contemporaries, men such as Jan Hus, William Tyndale, and Girolamo Savonarola.  In several recent news stories, we see that the experience of St. Joan continues today.  After the recent ouster of Mohammed Morsi, the president of Egypt, Islamists burned and looted the Coptic monastery in Dalga, Egypt, for one week.  Father Yoannis said in an interview that the monastery’s 1,600-year-old underground chapel burned for three days, and the chapel was stripped of its ancient icons, and the monastery grounds were dug up in the belief that treasure was buried.  Father Yoannis said, “Even the remains of ancient and revered saints were disturbed and thrown around.”  The town of Dalga, home to 120,000 inhabitants, including 20,000 Christians, has been outside government and police control since Morsi’s ouster.  Islamists attacked the southern Egyptian province of Minya with a wave of attacks against Christians, their homes and businesses.  Hundreds of jailed radicals who purportedly forswore violence were freed after President Mubarak’s fall in 2011, and were given freedom to recruit radical Islamists.  Southern Egypt has also seen a flood of heavy weapons smuggled across the desert from neighboring Libya to Islamists affiliated with the Moslem Brotherhood.

In Lagos, Nigeria, a nation that has seen more Christian martyrs in the past several years than any other nation, armed men recently kidnapped Church of Nigeria Archbishop Ignatius Kattey and his wife, Beatrice.  Archbishop Kattey is the second high-ranking cleric in the country’s Catholic Church.  Archbishop Kattey’s wife was released hours later, but the Archbishop is still being held captive.  In Somalia last week, Islamic extremists from the Al Shabaab rebel group, which is linked with Al Qaeda, killed Fatuma Isak Elmi, a 35-year-old Christian woman in Beledweyne, Hiran Province in south-central Somalia.  Sister Elmi’s husband, 36-year-old Mumin Omar Abdi, learned of her death when he arrived home that evening.  He said that he had found a note early that morning that read, “We shall come for you.  You are friends with our enemies [Westerners, assumed to be Christians], and you are polluting our religion.”  Abdi has now fled the area with the couple’s four-year-old son to an undisclosed location.  Then, on September 3rd in a neighboring town, masked men from Al Shabaab kidnapped Mustaf Hassan, a 13-year-old boy as he was returning home from school.  He had been staying with a Moslem relative since last year when his parents fled the area after they became Christians.  Christians in the area suspect that Al Shabaab abducted Mustaf to find his parents and other Christians.  Mustaf is the nephew of Fartun Omar, who was shot to death by Al Shabaab on April 13th.  In turn, Omar was the widow of Ahmed Ali Jimale, a 42-year-old father of four who was killed on February 18.  Al Shabaab killers have also martyred many other Christian believers in Somalia.

As we are approximately fifteen months from Mr. Obama’s planned withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan, a vicious anti-Christian hate campaign is being waged by Afghan lawmakers and some of the Afghan media.  Their anger is directed at Afghan Christians in India.  Many thousands of Afghans refugees have fled to India, and many have turned to Jesus Christ.  There is now a church of Afghan Christians that meets in New Delhi.  Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, a prominent Afghani parliamentarian, said several weeks ago that “Afghani citizens continue to convert to Christianity in India.  Numerous Afghanis have become Christians in India.  This is an offense to Islamic laws and according to the Koran, they need to be executed.”  So, he advises that in order to stem the growth of Christianity among Afghans inside and outside of the country, converts from Islam to Christianity should be killed according to Islamic sharia.  In the 2010 parliamentary election, the Right Honorable Hanafi received the third highest number of votes among the elected parliamentarians.

In the meantime, Syrian government troops battle Islamist rebels in the suburbs of Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.  However, Islamist militants (allied with President Obama’s military) have apparently withdrawn from the Christian town of Maaloula near the Lebanese border, as Syrian government forces launched an offensive to take back the town.  Maaloula is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, and many of the town’s residents speak Aramaic, the language of our Lord Jesus.

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world.  If you do watch The Passion of Joan of Arc, you can begin to experience some of the passion and suffering that these beloved brothers and sisters around the world go through.  In Revelation 6:9-10, we read of the holy martyrs who had been slain because of the holy Word of God and their testimony.  These martyrs continually cry out to God, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”  Indeed, O Sovereign and Loving Lord, how long?  St. Joan should continually remind us that we need to pray regularly for those facing the brutality of persecution for their Christian witness.