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Pray for the stabbed bishop, and for the courage to follow his example


MONDAY’S stabbing of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel of the Assyrian Church of the East in Sydney was bound to happen sooner or later. For those unfamiliar with the story, a 15-year-old Arabic speaker attacked the bishop and three others, including a priest, during a memorial service at the Church of the Good Shepherd in the western suburb of Wakeley. The assailant was quickly subdued by worshippers while the bishop, despite his wounds, put his hands on the boy and prayed. 

The notion of a Christian bishop being attacked in a British Commonwealth nation even ten years ago would have been almost inconceivable, but in this post-Paris, post-Manchester world, such a scene is all too easy to anticipate. Mari Emmanuel has gained a reputation as the TikTok Bishop, with short clips from his videos gaining, in some cases, several hundred thousand views. He is known for expounding the Gospel in a ‘full-fat’ way, with a fervour and spiritual intensity which has captivated audiences worldwide. Notably, he has expressed uncompromising positions in opposition to trans ideology, covid fascism (of which Australia has been a diabolical exemplar), Islam and the like. Emmanuel has a fiery, resonant voice and preaches with a distinctly Levantine fervour. A swathe of the backslidden and unconverted, many of them young people, have been revived in the faith through his sincerity of belief. 

What are the reasons for this appalling attack? The primary reason is that those who speak for the truth of Christ, preach the Gospel and proclaim his Resurrection (aptly enough in this Easter season) will always be at risk of persecution (c.f. Matt.5:11-13). We might not have noticed this in the West for much of the past two millennia, because Christianity has been our cultural and spiritual milieu, but we do well to remember that the faith was brought to Europe only through the witness of those who risked, and often surrendered, their earthly lives to make Christ known unto the ends of the earth. Christians native to areas such as Iraq whence the New South Wales prelate hails have known the scourge of Islamic aggression since the prophet received his dubious revelations in the sixth century and turned many former Christians against their erstwhile brethren with a venomous bellicosity which has yet to abate. Many Middle Eastern Christians, clergy and laity alike, are at risk of death and injury for the faith. To be a Christian in these countries is to sail close to the wind of martyrdom in a way no rainbow-draped, mitre-capped gender ideologue in an English cathedral need worry about.

Bishop Mari Emmanuel is undaunted by the forces of popular consensus or contemporary values. He holds to his convictions and strives to be faithful to the Church’s apostolically derived teachings. Whether or not one agrees with the bishop, such integrity and fidelity to conscience is to be admired in a world of cowardliness and relativism. The simple reality is that a combination of Islamic extremism (which is a feature, not a glitch, of the Muslim faith) and increasingly aggressive secularism will conspire to make it ever more perilous to hold to beliefs which would have been mainstream a generation ago. This attack comes at a time when Jacques Hamel, the French priest martyred by Islamic State affiliates in 2016, is now a candidate for canonisation as a Roman Catholic saint, proving at once the darkness of our age and the source of the light which pierces it. Along with a spate of Islamically motivated Christophobic incidents across Europe in the form of everything from arson to physical assault, we have seen a more deviously subtle form of it applied by the secular powers. In the United Kingdom, street preachers have been arrested for reading from Scripture and cases such as the arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce outside a Birmingham abortion clinic for praying silently, to name but one such instance, demonstrate the alarming power of public bodies to suppress freedom of religion, assembly, speech and even freedom of soul. Not only is public Christian expression, including within church buildings, evidently no longer a protected activity in Western society, but it is a fundamental right for which we must now be willing to fight. 

When Christians lose the ability to answer Pilate’s ‘What is truth?’ with the Kingly Name of Jesus, we have lost our orientation and need to find ourselves again. I am always moved by the Book of Common Prayer’s words spoken by the priest at the anointing of newly baptised, which entreat them ‘manfully to fight under Christ’s banner until (their) life’s end’. Now more than ever Christians in the West need to learn the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus is hard, and cannot only be for the fair-weather disciple. As Mar Mari’s stabbing shows, we can no longer depend on a cultural diffusion of Christianity to safeguard us, but must depend upon the One with power to put death to death and hell to flight. The situation will only worsen, although I write that not as an alarm, but rather a call to the quiet faithfulness of those who place their ultimate hope in Christ. Our earthly life is precarious, a fact concealed by a post-war veil of political coherence that is being rapidly and brutally torn asunder. Will we live and die for Christ?

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Harry Blanchard
Harry Blanchard
Harry Blanchard is a candidate for Holy Orders and aspiring writer.

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