By Liam Gibson
On Saturday 28 February 1395, Isidore Glabas, bishop of Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece, preached a sermon in which he began by asking:
“What am I to say and how am I to consider the magnitude of the present misfortune? …I have heard the harsh decree concerning our dearest ones, and I shudder as one before a fire too hot to approach, or as one facing an invincible swordsman. …My lips turn to lamentation, my mind is veiled in a cloud of despondency, and I am almost mad. My eyes are filled with tears and can no longer bear to see my beloved ones.”1
The record of what he said next is one of the earliest descriptions we have of the devshirme (from the Turkish word for “gathering”), also known as the blood tax: the child tribute demanded of the people of Romania, Greece and the Balkans. Every five or so years, across the Christian lands of the Ottoman empire, boys aged eight to fifteen years were “gathered” and the tallest, strongest and most handsome were taken back to Anatolia as slaves. There they were forcibly converted to Islam and given Muslim names. They were put to hard labour to toughen them before undergoing military training. The best and the brightest would join the privileged ranks of the Janissaries, the Sultan’s elite troops. Fanatically loyal to their new master, they would be used to subjugate their own people and conquer new territories for the Turks. And so the sons of Christian parents would be instrumental in perpetuating the regime that had enslaved them and the generations of boys who would come after them.
Eventually, the mere threat of the devshirme would be used by the Turks as a bargaining chip to persuade Christian cities to surrender to Ottoman rule on the condition that their children would be spared.
At least on one occasion, Bishop Isidore had gone to Asia Minor perhaps in the hope of rescuing the boys of Thessaloniki. This might explain his detailed knowledge of what befell those whom the Turks abducted. He concludes by lamenting their ultimate fate by saying:
“But the worst of all the evils is that, alas! he is shamefully separated from God and has become miserably entangled with the devil, and in the end will be sent to darkness and hell with the demons. Whose heart would these things not crush, who would not be bent and broken in the face of such a misfortune?”2
The growing threat of the “parental state”
On 2 January 2024, the media in Romania reported the case of a couple from Bihor, a county close to the country’s western border, who were given a four-month suspended prison sentence and forty days’ community service for educating their children at home.3 In 2021, after COVID restrictions had led schools to move all lessons online, the couple decided to withdraw their children rather than introduce them to the internet. Instead, they enrolled the children — then aged thirteen, eleven, ten and eight — in the US-based Home Life Academy and West River Academy, private agencies that, for a fee, offer guidance to parents who wish to educate their children themselves.
In 2022, following a campaign by the Romanian newspaper Adevărul (“Truth”), the Ministry of Education asked the police to identify parents who chose to educate their children at home.4 When officials from the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection examined the children of the Bihor couple, they concluded that there were significant gaps in their learning compared to their counterparts in Romania’s highly competitive public schools.
Marina-Ioana Alexandru, president of the Association of Jurists for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms, called the prosecution an abuse and described the state education system as “impregnated with LGBT propaganda disguised as sex education”. She denounced the decision to investigate families who had chosen to withdraw their children from the state system saying an attack on home-schooling is actually an attack on Romania’s children. Insisting that parental authority is “sacred”, she argues that those parents who have chosen to place their children into a different system of education have done nothing illegal per se; they are simply sending a signal that they have lost patience with the disaster in the mainstream system and want something better for their children.5
Article 32 of the Romanian Constitution specifies the right to education and, while home-schooling is not legally prohibited, the country’s history of Communist rule means there is no recognition of the right of parents to have their children educated in line with their beliefs. Groups like the Home Schooling Romania Association are seeking to change this but the values they promote are increasingly counter-cultural; across the Western world, parental rights are being challenged as never before.
During the drafting of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK delegate questioned whether Article 8, which originally incorporated the right of parents to educate their children according to their own convictions, (now in Article 2 of Protocol 1) was “essential for the functioning of democratic institutions”.6 Other delegates reminded him of how totalitarian regimes consolidate power by undermining the family. Today, the nations that once saw the protection of family as “essential” for a free society are engaged in undermining the rights of parents.
Unlike in Germany and Sweden, home-schooling is not illegal in Norway. Nevertheless, the activities of the country’s child welfare agency, Barnevernet, have earned the organisation a global reputation for taking thousands of children into care each year — often on dubious legal grounds.7 In November 2015, Barnevernet became the focus of international attention when it removed the children of Marius and Ruth Bodnariu. The four eldest were taken into emergency custody without warning. The following day the couple’s baby, who was still being breastfed, was also removed. They were sent to three separate foster homes in different parts of the country. The Bodnarius weren’t accused of maltreatment or neglect; rather officials believed the family’s Pentecostal faith presented a risk to the children.
Marius Bodnariu, originally from Romania, mobilised support back home and within the Pentecostal community overseas. This resulted in widespread demonstrations at Norwegian embassies and protests from Romanian politicians. In June 2016, under pressure, Barnevernet reunited the family, who left the country in fear of what could happen if they stayed.
As these two cases show, in less than ten years, Romania has gone from defending home-schooling parents to prosecuting them. This is the trajectory in what increasingly resembles an undeclared war on parents across the world.
Last September, the Biden administration announced that the Department of Health and Human Services would no longer approve the placement of children in need of foster care in homes that did not affirm the homosexual and gender identity agenda. The American Family Association warned that the assumption underlying this new policy is that Christian homes cannot provide a safe environment for children.
For almost forty years, it has been the policy of successive UK governments to provide birth control and abortions to underage girls without the knowledge of their parents. By promoting this method of social engineering as medical treatment, the National Health Service has successfully robbed parents of the right to make medical decisions in the best interests of their children. One unforeseen consequence of this policy has now made Britain notorious for the medical abduction of critically ill children (too numerous to name) to prevent them from receiving treatment abroad.
Finally, the coordinated promotion of comprehensive sex education by the United Nations,8 the World Health Organisation9 and the European Union threatens to nullify what remains of the legal recognition of parental authority. The magnitude of that misfortune will dwarf even the tragedy described by Isidore in his sermon on the fate of the boys of Thessaloniki. The evidence of the devastating effects of widespread sex education is beyond dispute. Not only does the sexualisation of children at increasingly younger ages leave them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by adults, but it often turns children themselves into predators. A report published on 15 January 2024, into Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in England and Wales revealed the horror of a society which had sexualised generations of young children. The data presented by the National Police Chief’s Council showed that in 2022, fifty-two per cent of all cases of child abuse and sexual exploitation “involved reports of children (aged ten to seventeen) offending against other children, with fourteen being the most common age.” The report noted:
“This is a growing and concerning trend involving a wide range of offending. Whilst some include exploratory online sexual behaviours, some of the most prevalent forms include serious sexual assaults, including rape.”10
While the publication of this report should provoke demands for a radical change in policy, the influence of the sex education lobby is so strong that even the most damning evidence is used to call for even more explicit sex education programmes supposedly to protect children from the increasing danger of abuse.
600 years ago, under the devshirme system, Janissaries were forbidden to take wives. Instead, they were encouraged to prey on younger boys.11 Fear of “Turkish pederasty”12 drove some parents to inflict an injury on their sons, like a broken arm or leg, in the hope that it would render them unsuitable for military service.13 It was they reckoned better “to go into life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, [and] be cast into everlasting fire.” (Mt 18:8) Such measures would not provide a solution in our time, but urgent action is required and personal sacrifices must be expected.
One day each of us will answer to God for what we have done and what we’ve failed to do. When he speaks to parents about the children He placed into our care, He will not ask about their grades or qualifications. He will ask what we did to nurture their faith and guard them from evil. Let us hope that we can say we did everything in our power to help our sons and daughters save their souls.
1. Speros Vryonis, Jr, “Isidore Glabas and the Turkish Devshirme” Speculum A Journal of Mediaeval Studies (July 1956) 30, 3. pp 433-43.
3. Veronica Bursașiu, “Bihorenii care și-au retras copiii de la școală și îi pregăteau în sistem homeschooling, condamnați la patru luni de închisoare cu suspendare” (The people of Bihor who withdrew their children from school and trained them in the homeschooling system, sentenced to four months in prison with suspension), Bihor Just, 2 January 2024.
4. Ema Ionescu, “Incredible: Two parents from Bihor, sentenced to PRISON for educating their children in the homeschooling system to protect them from ‘online school’”, (R3Media), 2 January 2024.
5. Marina-Ioana Alexandru, “Ministry of Education vs Homeschooling”, Active News, 9 January 2024.
6. Council of Europe, Preparatory work on Article 2 of the Protocol to the Convention, 9 May 1967.
7. Danai Christopoulou, “How Norway’s Child Welfare Service Is Creating World-Wide Controversy”, 30 March 2018.
8. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Sustainable Development Goals, “International technical guidance on sexuality education: An evidence-informed approach” (2019).
9. WHO Regional Office for Europe and BZgA, Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe: A framework for policy makers, educational and health authorities and specialists, 2010.
10. National Police Chief’s Council, “Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Analysis Launched”, 15 Jan 2024.
11. Sultan Selim I lifted the ban on marriage at the beginning of the sixteenth century but “it remained common for the Janissaries to be attracted to young boys”. Gilles Veinstein, “On the Ottoman janissaries (fourteenth–nineteenth centuries)”, in Erik-Jan Zürcher (ed) Fighting for a Living, A Comparative Study of Military Labour 1500-2000 (Amsterdam University Press, 2014), p 116.
12. Diane Moczar, Islam at The Gates: How Christendom Defeated the Ottoman Turks, (Sophia Press, 2008) p 38.
13. Raymond Ibrahim, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, (De Capo Press, 2018) p 212.