THE KERCHIEF OF VERONICA.
Christ always identifies Himself with His disciples. If He is the Vine, we are the branches. If we are the body, He is the Head. Those that touch His people, touch the apple of His eye. When He appeared to the persecutor on the way to Damascus He said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?" He is with us always, but He especially identifies Himself with those who suffer for His sake. Therefore, He was present at the Smyrna holocaust. He saw Bishop Chrysostom struck in the face, his beard and hair plucked out, and handed over to be paraded through the streets by the Turkish rabble, and crucified outside his cathedral. The magnitude of the atrocities and the horrors of the persecutions, which began at Smyrna and extended far beyond, are inexpressible. Helpless, hopeless, starving, homeless, the Christians of Turkey are still facing a dark future.
Very pitiful are the tales that come to us of the survivors. The Greek Metropolitan of Constantinople summed up the situation in words of dauntless courage in his reply to the presentation made him by the Bishop of Gibraltar
"Your presence and your words lighten in a measure the burden which presses upon my heart. Assuredly, my brother, you have come at a good season to this Capital City of Eastern Christianity, in order to understand at first hand the greatness of the catastrophe which has befallen.
"The wonderful Orthodox communities of Pontus, Galatia, and Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, to which the Apostle Paul wrote, have ceased to exist. The Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians, who had held fast the traditions which they learned from the preaching and the letters of the Apostle Paul, have ceased to exist.
"Those seven Apostolic Churches of Smyrna, Ephesus, Philadelphia, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea, to which the Evangelist John sent his Book of the Apocalypse, have been wiped from the face of the earth. And the Angel of the Church of Smyrna, our Brother Chrysostom, faithful to the charge given him by the Holy Spirit to be 'faithful unto death,' has received 'the crown of life.'
"In a word, the Christianity of Asia Minor, with which your Church of England in the person of its organizer, Theodore, had so vital a connection, has been altogether blotted out in our days.
"The fires of Smyrna have lit with their flare that great tract of land in which lie the bones of two million and more martyrs who have perished in agony in their witness for Jesus. And to fill the cup of our great affliction for Asia, we now have
news of the intense suffering of Thrace, which hasbeen left a wilderness by the exile of its Christian people. These unhappy souls have been compelled to quit the land in which lie buried the bones of their fathers. The victors of the Great War have demanded that it should be so, and that Thrace should be altogether Turkish . . . But praise be to God in all things.
"This staff which you have brought me comes at a seasonable time. Indeed, I have need to lean upon it in these hours in which my steps grow heavy through the greatness of my burden. With all my heart I return the truly brotherly salutation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, my well-beloved and true brother in Christ, Randall.
"Tell the Christians of the West that we Christians of the East 'who still live and remain,' are sore pressed and broken, but that we bear no grudge against them for our desertion by their governments. For a last word, I pray: May our Lord, the Faithful Witness, shower His blessings on the English Church for its sympathy with us in our martyrdom."
There is a legend of St. Veronica, that pious woman of Jerusalem, who, moved with pity by the spectacle of Jesus carrying His cross, took her kerchief and wiped the drops of agony from His brow. Our Lord accepted the service, and when He handed back the napkin it bore the image of His face miraculously impressed upon it. Whatever the origin of the legend, its beautiful significance lies on the surface. She could not stay the cruel
mob, nor prevent the scourging, nor change Pilate's final verdict, nor lift the cross as Simon did, but she in compassion wiped the Saviour's bleeding face, and carried away, not marks of blood, but the tracings of the very lineaments of that Face in which the light of the knowledge of the glory of God's compassion shines.
May we not hope that this will be the experience of many a Turkish Veronica, or some Anatolian Simon of Cyrene?
One who saw the worst, and looks out over the ashes of Smyrna, writes: "I deplore all hatred talk, all writings on the Turks as though they were not human. They are not very promising prodigal children, but I do not see how there can be any doubt about it that they are the children of our Father. It seems as though to the real follower of Jesus it should be a sweet thing to live long years of hardship and be willing at any minute to die if need be, if only God's Turkish children might come to know about their Elder Brother and the message He brought from the Father."
There have been wonderful instances of Moslems, men and women, and even children who showed mercy and compassion to Christians in their need, as there have also been instances of Christians who prayed with Stephen, "Lord lay not this sin to their charge." These are the only bright spots in the dark, dark record of hate and misunderstanding.
There may yet be many a Saul who to-day breathes threatenings and slaughter against the Churches of
Anatolia, but is already pricked in his heart because of their Christian witness, and finds it hard to kick against the goads. May we not expect Christ to reveal Himself to such, and choose them as apostles?
We who are missionaries also suffer the agonies of Veronica, and stand helpless amidst the tragedy of the Near East. We cannot untangle the Gordian knot of selfish diplomacy, or weigh the measure of individual and corporate guilt that rests on the nations represented at Lausanne. But to be only and mere spectators, callous observers, silent standers-aloof, when whole Christian communities are blindfolded, bound, spat upon, scourged, and led out to be crucified- that is impossible. We are reminded of the lines of Robert Louis Stevenson:
"If I feel in the ink of the slough,
And the sink of the mire,
Veins of glory and fire
Run through and transpierce and transpire;
Call to Prayer
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