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Rev. Dr.Miltiades B. Efthimiou,
Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
© 1993 - 2007 All Rights Reserved
In my capacity as Ecumenical Officer for both the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCUBA), it was apparent that western peoples must begin to understand the religious complexities of the Middle East at a time when religious confrontation and extremism become increasingly a mark of our times. Christian, Muslim and Jewish peoples are confronting one another at an alarming rate. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of Christians, Moslems and Jews, as well as an overview of the Christian Churches of the Middle East, which, of course, is a tentative undertaking, since momentous changes on a daily basis, further complicate a critical understanding by most Americans of the Middle East and its religious orientation, because of their unfamiliarity with religions and cultures that are not western or Christian. I am indebted to the Middle East Council of Churches and the publication Perspectives. The article “The Christians of The Middle East” is a reprint from the one that appeared, for the most part, in the 1986 Perspectives; and to Fr. Ronald G. Roberson’s work The Eastern Christian Churches — A Brief Survey (1993 edition). I would also recommend Dialogue With People of Other Christian Faiths, prepared by the Division of Overseas Ministries of the National Council of Churches of Christ, U.S.A. Rev. Dr. Miltiades B. Efthimiou
A CONTRAST OF THE THREE RELIGIONS
JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM
The religion in the Middle East is in the area that was once known as the Fertile Crescent and which has been referred to in the history books as “The Cradle of Civilization”. Religion in the area has had a major influence on the peoples of that region, and just as in today’s world in the Middle East, religion has played a prominent role not only in politics but also in the culture of that region and area. In the rest, there has developed over the evolution of time, a separation of the powers of church and state. In the Middle Fast: religion by popular demand of the people throughout the history of this region, have encouraged the religious influence in areas of government, education and economy. This is why religion in the area of politics was a dynamic force. The ancient Israelites may have had their kings, but those kings were usually advised in all matters by the High Priest. Under the Ottoman Empire, the heads of each religious community were made responsible for their own community’s taxation, schooling, and (for the most part) civil and religious law. Today, the governments of such countries as Lebanon, Israel and Saudi Arabia are very much based upon and/or tied to religion. JUDAISM Judaism, the oldest known religion in the Western World, was also the first to acknowledge only “one God who is just and good,” and served as the springboard from which later came both Christianity and Islam. Unlike the latter faith, however, Judaism’s representation in the world is relatively small in terms of numbers (just over 14 million). Its influence through the centuries has been substantial, nonetheless. As observed even 2,000 years ago by the Roman Geographer Strabo, “it is not easy to find any place in the habitable world that is not yet received this nation and in which it has not made its powers felt.” ORIGIN AND HISTORY Judaism had its earliest roots in the covenant which God is said to have made with his biblical prophet, Abraham, thousands of years ago. According to the Jewish Holy Scripture, the “Torah” (consisting of the first five Books of the
Old Testament), God chose Abraham for his faithfulness and promised to bless him and his posterity if they would accept and follow him as the one true God. That promise was later renewed with Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob (renamed Israel), as well as others who were called by God as prophets. The Torah goes on to describe the development of ancient Israel’s people into a veritable theocracy. Its writings and teachings were compiled by a succession of prophets from Abraham to Jeremiah, and ranged from the poetic creation story to detailed instructions concerning temple construction and dietary laws. Indeed, the Torah served to bind the twelve tribes of Israel together. As expressed by Saadia, the “Gaon” (Rector) of the Rabbinical College of Sum, “Israel is a people only by virtue of the Torah.” According to biblical tradition, most of Israel’s descendants were eventually scattered and lost through war and conquest. When King Nebuchadenezzar sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and took the tribe of Judah to Babylon in captivity, however, the Jews somehow remained a people in tact with most of their teachings and practices. But enslaved as they were and without access to their temple for priesthood rites of worship, the people of Judah eventually lost their ancient priesthood. Thereafter, they formed small groups for worship and the study of Jewish law. These came to be known in time as “Synagogues” (from the Greek word meaning “to bring together”) and have endured through the centuries to this day. BELIEFS AND PRACTICES As with other religions, Judaism has suffered some schism and fragmentation during its long history, but that which binds all Jews, Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative alike — is the importance of the Torah. It instructs almost every aspect of a Jew’s life. A remarkable legend exists among Jews which reveals their dedication to this holy book: “As the Israelites stood assembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai to enter into their solemn Covenant with God, there suddenly descended from heaven and remained suspended miraculously over their heads, an apparition of “The Book” and, beside it, one
of “The Sword.” “Choose!” commanded the Bat Kol (the “daughter of the voice” - of God) from Heaven. “You can have one or the other, but not both — either The Book or The Sword! If you choose The Book, you must renounce The Sword. Should your choice be The Sword, The Book will perish.” The Rabbinic weaver of this morality then concluded exaltedly that the Israelites made the most memorable decision in the history of mankind: They chose The Book! “Thereupon, the Holy One – blessed be He! -- said to Israel: ‘If you keep what is written in The Book you will be delivered from The Sword, but should you fail to keep it, in the end the sword will destroy you.’”
Nathan Ausubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge
lieu of Isaac. Perhaps Judaism most important contribution to world civilization was its development of, and emphasis on, ethical values. The central doctrine in the Jewish religion is that of ‘the sanctification of life.” According to scripture, when God created man He made him in His own image. It follows in Judaism, then, that men and women must live up to this distinction by imitating God in his ethical attributes. A Jew is obliged, therefore, to work tirelessly to improve intellectually and morally, to seek truth through Torah-study, meditation and self-examination, and to love all human beings ‘as himself’ performing good deeds in their belief. According to Judaism, such activity would not only bless the individual and others, but also help hasten the redemption of the world from evil, oppression, social injustice and war. CHRISTIANITY When thinking of Christianity, one generally considers the Western Hemisphere where it is the predominant religion. Yet its roots are firmly planted in the Fertile Crescent (today’s Middle East), and large Christian communities, who once spoke Greek as their common language, continue to thrive there today. Unlike its predecessor, Judaism, and Islam which followed not long after, Christianity asserts that God dwelt among men at the incarnation, so that they might learn to imitate Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and in this way, learn how to live “a more perfect life.” In this way, Jesus Christ was called “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Today, our Lord’s followers make up the largest religious group in the world, numbering over one billion men and women. HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT Some two thousand years ago, a Jew appeared on the scene in ancient Palestine and began to teach a new kind of faith. He performed numerous miracles, including bringing the dead back to life, and with seeming authority prophesized to his fellow Jews. As more and more flocked to hear his teachings, the local Jewish authorities began to hear of his growing influence. According to Christian tradition, this Jesus of Nazareth was conceived miraculously of a virgin after she had been overshadowed by the “Power of the Highest.” Thus, He was called the Son of God. A carpenter by trade, Jesus began His ministry at the age of thirty by being “baptized” in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Immediately thereafter,
The Torah contains a total of 613 commandments, but the Prophet Micah summarized them all in three: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.” Later the great Jewish sage, Hillel, was asked to be even briefer…as if he were “standing on one foot.” The renowned teacher of ethics replied, “and what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man,” adding that “the rest -of the Torah-is merely commentary.” Along with the Torah, observant Jews pay great heed to the “Talmud”, a collection of many treatises dwelling on Rabbinic laws and organizations, traditions, customs, rites and ceremonies, and civil and criminal laws. Despite all of these writings, there was no fixed creed of Jewish belief until the 13th century when the great Jewish sage, Maimonides wrote a code of thirteen articles. Over half of these articles detailed the Jewish belief in the one true God as creator of all and the only being worthy of worship. The remaining articles specified faith in the prophets, the unchangeability of the law, the coming of the Messiah, and the revival of the death at some future point. Prayer and ritual observance also served to bind Jews together the world over. Each Saturday, they meet together in their respective synagogues to celebrate the Sabbath under the direction of a Rabbi, who is not a priest but a teacher. Much of their religion is expressed through annual celebration of Judaism’s holy days, many of which are tied closely to important historical events. The ram’s horn, which is traditionally blown to announce the New Year on Rosh Hashona, serves as a reminder of the ram God sent to Abraham to use as a sacrifice in
according to the New Testament, he fasted, prayed and suffered temptation for forty days as He sojourned in the Judean wilderness alone. Strengthened by this experience, He then began to teach the truth of His Father. For three years, He traveled throughout the provinces of Judea, Samaria and Galilee gathering disciples and preaching love, toleration, repentance and forgiveness. When accused by Rabbinical leaders of ignoring the teachings of the ancient Jewish prophets, Jesus replied: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Not unlike the later founder of Islam, Mohammed, then Christ saw His teachings as a completion of what had already taken root. He was viewed by Jewish and Roman authorities alike as a threat to the status quo for, at the young age of thirty-three, Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned unjustly to death by crucifixion. For a brief time, His death caused great confusion and chaos among His followers even though He, Himself, had predicted His death. In their belief, He was the Jews’ promised Messiah who would save the world. But now their Saviour was dead, and, afraid for their own lives, His chosen twelve Apostles scattered and hid. Three days after Christ’s body had been placed in the tomb, reports began to circulate that the tomb was found empty and that various Disciples (including His remaining Apostles) had seen the resurrected Lord. According to the acts of the Apostles, following His resurrection, Jesus sojourned for forty days among His Apostles, and laying the ground work of what would then become His Church. His last words to His followers before Ascending into Heaven were as follows: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded to you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
(St. Matthew 28:18-20)
of the Holy Bible. Overcoming severe initial persecution, Christianity (as the new faith soon came to be called) was eventually embraced by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 323 A.D. Thereafter, it continued to grow steadily beyond territorial or racial limits. BELIEFS AND PRACTICES For centuries after its birth, Christianity was considered an obscure Jewish cult by most observers. After all, its founder was a Jew, and if his teachings did not always mirror those of traditional Judaism, they usually seemed to hinge upon Jewish law in some way. Gradually, however, differences between Judaism and Christianity became apparent enough and conversion to the new faith became so widespread that it was accorded a place of its own as a major world religion. Whereas Jews would talk to heed the “letter” of the law, Christ emphasized its “spirit”. For example, while Moses had taught the people, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Christ maintained further that “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, have committed adultery with her already in his heart.” His many parables concerned such subjects as faith, responsible use of talents, truth, forgiveness, brotherhood and love. Christianity has suffered more schism and division than any other religion. As a result, today there are thousands of different Christian denominations and sects, making it extremely difficult to define a “Christian” and what he or she believes. The closest one can come to the original form of “Christianity”, is the Orthodox Church. Timothy Ware says, “Orthodoxy claims to be universal — not something exotic and oriental, but simple Christianity. Because of human failings and the accidents of history, the Orthodox Church has been largely restricted in the past to certain geographical areas. Yet to the Orthodox themselves their Church is something more than a group of local bodies. The word, ‘Orthodoxy’, has the double meaning of ‘right belief’ ‘right glory’ (or ‘right worship’). The Orthodox, therefore, make what may seem at first a surprising claim: they regard their church as the Church which guards and teaches the true belief about God and which glorifies him with right worship, that is, as nothing less than the Church of Christ on earth.”
Timothy Ware ‘THE ORTHODOX CHURCH”
Christ’s victory over death and Hades greatly encouraged his followers. Led now by the Apostles, the Church and Christian communities began to develop and preach His message. Some of those disciples most familiar with Jesus and His ministries, made written records of His life and teachings which were then compiled as the Gospels. Later, combined with the writings of the Apostles, these writings formed the Christian New Testament
The highlight of the early church congregational worship, which is at the core of the Orthodox church, and those churches in communion
with the spirit of early Christianity, is the sacramental meal, consisting of bread and wine, and offered in commemoration of Jesus’ “Last Supper”, with his Apostles before He was crucified. This is the basis of bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy at the Epiclesis. According to biblical sources, it was on that occasion, the Last Supper, that Christ, in a prayer to God the Father, described His own role and specified the goal of all Christians: “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee: as Thou has given Him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”
(St. John 17:1-3)
ISLAM Of the three great monotheistic faiths, Islam is perhaps least familiar and least understood in the West. Yet it is by far the most prevalent religion in the Middle East and, indeed, is embraced by onefifth of the entire world population. Given its widespread presence, it is important to know and understand Islam, its origins, tenets, rites and variations, for it reaches into every part of the life of its follower (called a “Muslim” meaning one who submits to the will of God). ORIGIN AND HISTORY According to tradition, one night in 610 A.D. a man praying in the mountains near Mecca heard a mysterious voice saying “thou art the prophet of God.” A holy spirit, traditionally identified with the Archangel Gabriel, then appeared and ordered, “Recite!” When Mohammed asked what he should recite, the spirit commanded: “Recite: in the name of thy lord who created, created man out of a blood-clot. Recite: and thy lord is the Most Generous, who wrote by the pen. Taught man that he knew not.”
Mohammed then forty years old, had apparently been religious before this experience, feeling deeply concerned with the social ills and corruptions he had witnessed as a trader in Mecca and in his travels beyond the west coast of Arabia. But now he felt called to do something about it.
Tradition states that over the next twentytwo years, the remaining text of the Holy Koran was transmitted to Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel in similar moments of spiritual communion. During this period, as Mohammed preached publicly, his fame and influence began to grow and three events occurred which proved crucial to the development of Islam. First, not long after the death of his beloved wile Khadija in 619 AD., Mohammed became engaged to the young daughter of one of his most loyal followers. His favorite wife of his later years, Aisha proved an invaluable source of tradition concerning the prophet after he died, and she figured prominently in the battle for succession which followed his death. It was also during this period, when things were most difficult, that Mohammed is said to have had an experience now referred to as the “Nocturnal Journey.” According to Muslims, in the course of a single night the Prophet was carried from Mecca to Jerusalem where he met and prayed with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ, as well as others at the spot where the Dome of the Rock stands. Then accompanied by Gabriel, he is said to have ascended into heaven and received further instructions concerning Islam. Finally, he turned to Jerusalem and he was carried back to Mecca before dawn. For Muslims, his prophethood was confirmed through this experience and Jerusalem joined Mecca as one of Islam’s holy cities. The third holy city, Medina (known until the prophet’s time as Yatrib), gave Mohammed what he needed to ensure the continued expansion of Islam—to control an authority to make changes in government and society. He was invited there by converts to help mediate between warring factions. The “Hijra” (migration) of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Yatrib took place in 622 A.D. Yatrib welcomed him with open arms and soon became known as the city of the prophet, “Madinat al-Knabi,” or Medina for short. Within thirty-five years, Islamic control spread from that city to the entire Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Persia, Syrian, and lower Egypt. It has continued to spread and today Islam represents the majority of the populations of thirty-five countries, as well as sizeable minorities in such countries as India, Russia, Nigeria, China, South Africa, the United States, Yugoslavia and Britain. BELIEFS AND PRACTICES Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe in obeying the will of God in this life and follow a well defined code of moral and ethical behavior
based on scripture and prophetic teaching. Three beliefs are most fundamental to a Muslim’s faith. First, there is absolutely only one God (called Allah) in Arabic, and he is supreme and the only being men and women should worship. Second, Mohammed is the messenger of God, through whom God revealed himself to humanity. Even though he is considered by Muslims to be the greatest of the prophets, he is not to be worshipped or called on to intercede between the faithful and God. Indeed, it is offensive to a Muslim to be called a “Mohammedan”. The prophet was to be considered a great example to follow, however, and the sayings and actions of Mohammend (referred to as traditions) hold great weight for Muslims, second in importance only to the Koran. Third, the holy book of the Koran is the completion of God’s revelation to mankind. Muslims believe it is literally the word of God, infallible and immutable, and contains his will as revealed in the Arabic language. Indeed, they believe the Koran is a transcript of parts of the book that is preserved in heaven a book in which is recorded all that has ever happened and all that ever will happen. For Muslims, belief is only validated through practice. Thus to be saved and attain Paradise after death, a Muslim must perform five specific actions during his/her life. Referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam, they have been set forth in the Koran and clarified in the traditions of Testimony, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting and Pilgrimage. The First Pillar Testimony is simply an affirmation of the uniqueness of God and the role of Mohammed as his messenger. It is repeated daily by devout Muslims at the close of their prayer, which is performed five times each day facing Mecca. With regard to Almsgiving, while in some Muslim states obligatory alms are collected regularly in lieu of income tax, most believers voluntarily make a collection among themselves and are traditionally openhanded with street beggars. Fasting tests the self-denial and obedience of the faithful and also permits the rich to better understand the deprivations of the poor. Thus, once a year for a period of one month during the daylight hours, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, smoking, and physical intimacy. The Fifth and final Pillar requires the faithful to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. To adherents of Islam, this pilgrimage (referred to as the “Hajj”) is well worth the effort
and expense and, indeed, is believed by many to guarantee entry into Paradise. LIVING SIDE BY SIDE The sad example of the division which religion can stir up is exemplified by the term “Holy Land”. The phrase today conjures up several contrasting views. Some read it and picture soft brown hills, dotted here and there by ancient olive groves and slowly shifting herds of sheep. Others feel a stirring within as they imagine the ancient prophets who appeared in that region to change the destinies of so many. Then too, there are those who follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ in and around Galilee, Jerusalem, Capernaum, etc. Then there are those who cannot help but shake their heads at the irony in the phrase as they consider the war and destruction that strained the history of that “Holy Land”. Although there is cause and justification for despair, the three great monotheistic religions which developed successively there — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — share much more than is generally known or suspected. They sprang from the same basic geographical area and, thus, are all semitically rooted. And due largely to their common ancestor, Abraham, the teachings of each were originally written and spoken in closely related languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic). Many of the teachings are similar and several of the same incidences and characters are mentioned in the scriptural writings of all three religions. The Jewish Torah is included in the Christian Bible, and both Jews and Christians are respected by Muslims as “People of the Book.” With so many common strands, it is not surprising, then, that historically Jews, Christians, and Muslims have often lived side by side in the same communities in the Middle East. Perhaps this point is the key to peace for the conflicts, not conflicts of religious beliefs; they pertain, rather, to questions of economy, politics and rights of self-determination and, to a large extent, have been exacerbated by influence and powers outside the area. Perhaps the greatest hope for salvation is that because religion is never far removed from society in that part of the world, it will also help to bridge the differences and heal the wounds and build the foundation of true peace and unity.
Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mt. Sinai
THE CHRISTIANS OF THE MIDDLE EAST*
The fact of the Christian presence in the Middle East, from Apostolic times to our own, is hardly known by the average western Christian. We so easily assume that all the churches in the modern-day Middle East, Asia and Africa are the result of western Christian missions in the last century. Even in western theological colleges the study of Church history and doctrine begins in Jerusalem, then moves quickly westward with St. Paul. There is a leap from the patristic period of the early Church fathers to the medieval Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation, and the student is left with the impression that the Church somehow ceased to exist in its land of origin. Just as erroneously, westerners are likely to attribute this to the rise of Islam in the 7th century A.D., on the assumption that Muslims put a violent end to Christianity in the Middle East. The narrowness of such ethnocentricity is the prison of ignorance of many. It perpetuates very mistaken views of the Middle East, and is also profoundly insulting to the 12 million or more Christians in the region who are today the heirs of rich Christian traditions which, by remaining indigenous to the areas where Christianity began, link the world Church historically with its origins. The churches of the Middle East can be grouped into 5 families representing about 15 million Christians (approximately 9 million residing in the Middle East). The largest is the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches — the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, the Armenian Apostolic Church living in various Arab countries in addition to the Armenians of the Republic of Armenia; and the Syrian Orthodox Church. Each is fully selfgoverning, though they are in communion with one another. The second family of churches is the Byzantine Orthodox Churches. They are often referred to as Eastern or Greek Orthodox. They constitute three sell-governing churches, linked by doctrine, liturgy and canon law with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul (formerly Byzantium or Constantinople), and belong, therefore, to that wider family of Orthodox churches in Russia, eastern Europe and elsewhere. The third family comprises the Catholic churches of the Middle East. These churches all accept the supreme ecclesiastical authority of the
Pope and the doctrine of the Catholic Church. But only a small percentage of them are Roman, or Latin-Catholic. Most of them can be grouped together as the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches — the word “rite” denoting their forms of liturgy and canon law which differ from the western Latin rite of the Roman Catholics. The largest of these churches is the Maronite Church in Lebanon. The fourth family is in terms of independent history, one of the oldest and most selfcontained in the Middle Eastern churches: the Assyrian Church of the East. Sometimes identified by its historical tradition as the Church of the “East Syrians” or the Church of Persia. It exists in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The fifth family comprises the Anglican, Lutheran and Protestant Churches, like the Easternrite Catholic Churches (possibly excepting the Maronite Church), these churches came into being as a result of western missionary activity in the Middle East. Whereas the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches mostly go back several centuries, this family of churches dates in the Middle East from as recently as the 19th century. The Apostles and their churches In the earliest years of Christian history churches were founded in various parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean world where the Apostles travelled as missionaries of the Gospel. In the West we attribute the foundation of the Church of Rome to St. Peter and St. Paul, and in the New Testament we read the letters of St. Paul to several of the early Christian communities with which he was linked in Greece and western Turkey. We also read of the Church in Jerusalem, led by St. James the brother of John, and the Church in Antioch, in the north-western corner of Syria where St. Peter and St. Paul are said to have created a community of Christians which soon became one of the flourishing centers of Christianity. St. Thomas is also associated by tradition with Antioch, though his missionary travels took him eastward through Central Asia and India. So also St. Bartholomew who travelled northward through eastern Turkey and Armenia. Another important Christian center was at Alexandria in Egypt where St. Mark is said to have preached among his kinsmen, the Copts, from whose name we derive the words “Egypt” and
“Egyptian”. Further south in Africa, St. Matthew is believed to have founded the Church in Ethiopia. While it may be difficult to verify all these traditions by historical criteria, they have been and remain fundamental to the self-understanding of the eastern churches throughout the ages. It is for this reason that they speak of themselves as being truly “apostolic”. These 15 million Christians represent only a tiny minority of the total population of the Middle East (about 10%), the great majority of whom are Muslim. The churches vary from one another, historically, doctrinally, and culturally, and this produces sometimes different views of the Arab Muslim world in which they live. But the quality of their living traditions is not to be measured in terms of their numbers, nor is their significance to be belittled because of their differences. In our ecumenical age of deepening fellowship between all parts of the Christian Church, and of growing dialogue with Muslims, these churches demand to be understood in their own terms, no longer under the prejudicial stereotypes of “ancient”, or “schismatic”, or “younger” (i.e. recently converted), or foreign”. THE FIVE “CHURCH” FAMILIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST The following survey of the churches of the Middle East, groups them into five ‘families’: Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East. The Oriental (non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox Churches The greatest number of Christians in the Middle East Belong to the churches of the Oriental Orthodox family. The largest of these is the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. The others are: The Armenian Apostolic Church. seated in the Lebanese coastal town of Antilias, north of Beirut, and the Syrian Orthodox Church, seated in Damascus. Ethnically and culturally these three churches are in many ways different, each being identified with its own people or nation. The Armenian Church traces its origins to the missionary Apostles Thadaeus and Bartholomew. It has since remained the central institution of Armenian nationhood and nationalism. The Copts trace their descent from the Pharaonic Egyptians. Their conversion to Christianity began with the North African preaching of St. Mark whom they recognize as the first Patriarch of Alexandria. But it took three centuries
of persecution before the Coptic Church established itself in Egypt. The desert monasticism, following the rules of St. Antony and St. Pachomeus, attracted many other Christians to visit Egypt. Their missionary activity in Africa led to the Christianization of much of Nubia, the Sudan and Ethiopia. Weakened by the withdrawal eastwards of the Assyrian Church, the remaining “Western Syrians” felt themselves abused by the Council of Chalcedon and raffled to the anti-Chalcedonian teaching of the 6th century Jacob (Yaqub) alBarada’i after whom the Syrian Orthodox Church is sometimes labeled “Jacobite”. Notwithstanding such differences, however, these three Oriental Orthodox Churches have in the early centuries struggled to uphold their nations’ interests against the imperial presence of the Byzantine and the Persian Empires. With the rise of the Islamic Empire in the 7th century A.D. they fell under a new form of religio-political power which, for the next five centuries, largely improved their situation. The Muslims treated the Christians as a single group, irrespective of the doctrinal differences between Assyrian, Oriental and Byzantine Orthodox Churches, and looked to them to provide the cadre of the “civil service” in the Islamic Caliphate. This situation was imperiled, however, by the intrusion of the western Christian Crusaders from the 11th to the 13th centuries, and led to periodic persecution and social marginalization of all the eastern Christians as the Mongol dynasties seized control of the Caliphate. From the 14th to the early 20th centuries, therefore, the eastern churches lived as “closed communities”, isolated within Islamic society and cut off from the church in the West. The breach between these churches and the Byzantine family of churches occurred in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, and thus they accept the authority of only the first three ecumenical councils. For many centuries the non-Chalcedonian churches lived more or less in isolation from the rest of Christendom and, for political and geographical reasons, even from one another. However, for the first time since the 6th century they held a conference of the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in Addis Ababa in 1965. Since then they have drawn closer together in fellowship and joint planning. They are presently in official negotiation with the “Chalcedonian” Eastern Orthodox family of churches on Christology and “Chalcedonian” unity and are active members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the
Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). The Armenian Apostolic Church Catholicosate of Cilicia The Armenian Apostolic Church, known also as Armenian Orthodox, has a distinctive ethnical, cultural and historical background from the churches referred to in this issue. Diaspora has been a permanent aspect of Armenian history. Since the dawn of their history, the Armenians, for one reason or another, have emigrated. However, forced and massive emigration only began in the 10th century, with the successive occupation of Armenia by Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, Persians, Ottomans and Russians. Deportation and migration continued in succeeding centuries. But none of the mass deportations of earlier years equaled those that took place in the period 19151922. Over one and a half million Armenians were massacred in Turkey and the rest deported to the Syrian deserts. At present they are about two million and can be found almost anywhere on the globe, mostly in Middle Eastern countries, the USA and Canada, South America, southern and western Europe and Australia. The church in diaspora has three centers: 1. The Catholicosate of Cilicia, reestablished and reorganized in Antelias, Lebanon in 1930. With its diocesan administrative organization, theological seminary and world-wide ecumenical relations, it is the de facto spiritual centers of the Armenian diaspora. It also plays a significant role in the cultural, social and political life of the nation. Its jurisdiction now covers Lebanon, Syria (Aleppo, Qamishli), Cyprus, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Greece and half of the Armenian communities in North America. 2. The Patriarchate of Constantinople; and 3. the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, both of them related to the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin, in the former Soviet Republic of Armenia. Today the Armenian Church in diaspora finds itself in a very different context and thus faces various problems and challenges. it is truly a scattered church. Nevertheless, neither resistance nor struggles for survival have been the only or most salient exteriorization of their faith. Rather it is creative activity and constant dynamism that have been its hallmark. This creativity has given birth to outstanding architectural expressions, to beautiful miniatures in the thousands of manuscripts which have marked almost the entire literary inheritance of the classical language from the 5th to the 9th centuries, to ecclesiastical ceremonies and sacred music of impressive and elevating impact on the
human soul. All over the world, signs of renewal have been emerging in the Armenian Church. Translation and dissemination of the Bible, Christian education through courses for the youth and adults, and popular publications, emphasis on local leadership, both clerical and lay, care of children of broken families, homes for the aged, and housing projects for the needy — all those figure among the concerns and activities of the church. The Armenian Apostolic Church in Lebanon is a strong community of 150,000 members who are now fully integrated into the Lebanese society. The school of theology at Bikfaya, founded in 1930, provides new clergy and also furnishes priests to serve the diaspora communities falling under its jurisdiction. The Armenian Orthodox are the third largest Christian community in Syria, after the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches. They number 100,000. The Armenian Apostolic Church is the largest Christian community in Iran. Armenians were established in Iran mainly in 1605 when Shah Abbas forced hundreds of thousands of Armenians to leave their homeland and migrate to Iran. Presently the church has three dioceses with a total of 170,000 members. All Saviour’s Monastery in New-Julfa, Isfahan was built in the early 17th century. There we find a printing press established in 1636, a museum of Armenian art and a rich library of manuscripts. The Armenian Church has 3,500 members in Cyprus. Armenians have lived on the island since the 11th century. The Armenian Apostolic Church in Kuwait and the Emirate has about 12,000 members. Large communities of Armenians live in Europe (in France there are 350,000 members), in the USA and Canada 600,000. The Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin Located in Armenia, the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin is the spiritual center for the Armenians living there. It also has jurisdiction on communities in the Middle East (Iraq and Egypt), France, USA, South America and Australia. The existence of two Catholicosates with the Armenian Church: the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin (Catholicosate of All Armenians in former Soviet Armenia) and the Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon is due to historical circumstances. In the 10th century when Armenia was devastated by the Seljuks, Armenians came to settle in Cilicia and reorganized their political, ecclesiastical and cultural life. The Catholicosate
too, took refuge in Cilicia and remained there for almost 4 centuries. In 1375 the Kingdom of Cilicia was destroyed. Meanwhile, benefiting from a relatively peaceful time in Armenia, the bishops elected a Catholicos for Etchmiadzin in 1441. Since then the two Catholicosates function with equal rights and privileges in their respective jurisdictions. The primacy of honor of the Etchmiadzin is always recognized by the Catholicosate of Cilicia. The Armenian Church has always functioned as one Church in dogma and liturgy. The diocese of Baghdad, Iraq, is related to the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin and counts 15,000 members. The diocese of Egypt is related also the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin and has 20,000 members. The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople with its See at Istanbul, Turkey, is dependent on the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin. The faithful (80,000) are concentrated in Istanbul, where 35 of the Patriarchate’s parishes are located. The Patriarchate was recognized in 1461 by the Ottoman authorities as the sole legal representative of all Armenians in the Empire, including those within the jurisdiction of the Cilician Catholicosate. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem This church is the largest among the four oriental Orthodox churches in Palestine: Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian. Armenian churches existed in Jerusalem since the 5th century. Spiritually the Patriarchate depends on the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin. A very good relationship exists with the Catholicosate of Cilicia. The Patriarchate occupies the entire summit of Mt. Zion. It has 1,500 members. Between 1950 and 1973 almost 90% of the members emigrated. The related church in Amman, Jordan, has 1,500 members. The Coptic Orthodox Church The Copts are the native Christians of Egypt and the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Eusebius (died c. 359) records the tradition that the church in Egypt was founded by St. Mark, 50 A.D. and Alexandria ranked with Antioch and Rome as one of the chief sees of the early church. One of the contributions of this church have been the monastic orders. The early and fertile ground of the outreach of Christianity in Egypt also produced great theologians. There the Holy
Scriptures — clad in Hebrew through divine revelation — merged with human intellectual wisdom, imbued with Greek philosophy and categories of thought. Egypt, as already referred to, became the first and foremost center of monastic life. Even though the influence of the celebrated School of Alexandria which set the basis for the first canons of systematic theology, progressively faded during the first six centuries, monastic life nevertheless blossomed and up to this very day continues playing an important role in Coptic life. All bishops are former monks. The laity is influenced by monasticism too. Many young lay people choose celibacy and the monastic life as a vocation. The Coptic Church is the largest Christian community in the Middle East. It counts about 6,000,000 believers. It has some 45 dioceses in Egypt, Africa, Middle East, Europe and the USA. 40 of these dioceses are functioning in Egypt. There are Coptic churches in Kuwait, Jordan, Jerusalem, Lebanon and Iraq. Jerusalem has an archdiocese (established in the 9th century) with two congregations in Jaffa and Nazareth. The churches in the other countries are related directly to the Patriarchate. The diocese of the USA and Canada was founded in the 1960’s. Twenty-four congregations in the USA and three in Canada are formed mainly from Egyptian immigrants. Five parishes are found in London, Paris, Vienna, Geneva and Frankfurt. Since the mid 19th century and in the frame of new developments, primary, secondary and technical schools have been established, some by the Patriarchate and others by the diocesan authorities. Church schools are offering courses in catechism. The Coptic Orthodox seminary in Abbasiya, Cairo, was founded in 1893, and has now several branches in Alexandria, Minia, Assuit and Tanta with several hundred students. In 1972, Pope Shenouda III (enthroned in 1971) reestablished a branch of the theological seminary in Alexandria. More than 200 students, both priests and lay preachers, are trained in the seminaries. The Institute of Higher Coptic Studies was founded in 1954 and has become an important ecumenical center for the study of the Coptic language (the last form or stage of the ancient Egyptian language), literature, art and liturgy. Coptic laity actively participate in the life of the church. Parish church councils and benevolent societies, under diocesan authorities, meet the pastoral and social needs of the community. Family life in particular is emphatically Christian and impregnated with intense spirituality.
The Syrian Orthodox Church This Church has its center in the Patriarchate of Antioch (at present in Damascus, Syria) and counts about 160,000 believers. It is a church which has contributed much to the blossoming of early Christian literature and to the treasure of theological thinking, spreading Christianity from the Byzantine Empire to the regions of the Far East. An outstanding bishop was St. Jacob Barada’i (500-578) (after whom the Syrian Orthodox were called “Jacobites”). He revived the ritual life of the church in Syria, Egypt and Persia. During the Mongol invasions of the 14th century, the church suffered greatly. At the end of the 18th century its strength was further reduced due to the establishment of a separate Uniate Syrian Patriarchate (Syrian Catholics). At the turn of the present century (1915-1920) the church was affected by Turko-Kurdish persecutions and in the 1970’s by mass emigrations. The Seat of the Patriarchate, after many moves over the centuries, was finally established in Damascus, Syria, in 1954. With its capacity to endure difficulties and persecutions, today the Syrian Orthodox Church in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey shows signs of new vitality. New schools have been opened, churches built, homes for the elderly founded. Renaissance is specially obvious in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. In Sunday School, the Syriac language (known also as Aramaic) is taught. It is also the liturgical language. In Damascus, Syria, there is a theological seminary which is developing steadily, after having been in Lebanon for several years. The monasteries form an integral part of the church’s spiritual heritage. In Iraq, the oldest Christian monastery of Mar Matta, near Mosul monastery of Mar Gabriel, is a community center for residents of Tur Abdeen, Turkey, and the surrounding 48 villages. The Syrian Orthodox Catholicosate of the East is part of the wider Souryani community, based in Kerala state, India. They are also called Malabars and number more than one million faithful. A major schism occurred in this church in the 19th century when Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar broke off. It has a membership of 350,000 faithful. The Syrian Orthodox Catholicosate of the East was reestablished in 1964, after being vacant for centuries. Twelve dioceses are under its jurisdiction. In the 1970’s a jurisdiction division occurred in the church. One branch continues to recognize the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch in Damascus and another branch installed its independent Catholicose in Malabar.
There are now twelve dioceses related directly to the Patriarchate: four in Syria, two in Iraq, two in Turkey, two in Lebanon, and one in Jordan. Syrian Orthodox dioceses are found today in Europe (Holland and Sweden), the USA and Canada, and two patriarchal vicarates in Brazil and Argentina. The Eastern (Byzantine) Orthodox Churches The Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople (now Istanbul), Alexandria, Antioch (now centered in Damascus) and Jerusalem belong to the Byzantine tradition of Orthodoxy which also includes eleven other autocephalous or selfgoverning churches: Russia, Romania, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Albania and Sinai. To distinguish them from the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox are also called Byzantine Orthodox, by reference to their use of the Byzantine-rite liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; or Chalcedonian Orthodox, be reference to the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 which condemned ‘monophysitism”. Others sometimes still describe them as Melkite-Orthodox, a reference to their political allegiance to the Byzantine Emperor (“melik” king) until the fall of Constantinople to Muslim conquest in 1453, and their subordination to the authority of the Patriarch in Constantinople during the Ottoman period. Another term, Greek Orthodox, tends to be rather misleading as it wrongly suggests them to be part of the Church of Greece, and draws attention away from the fact that, in the Middle East, the great majority are Arab or Arabized. Eastern Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, as elsewhere, are different from the Oriental (non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox in two important respects. First of all, the Eastern Orthodox recognize the authority of seven ecumenical councils: Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), and Nicea II (787). The term ecumenical in its root meaning is “the inhabited world”. As used with reference to those councils, it means the Christian world of the fourth to the eighth centuries. Secondly, Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as Ecumenical Patriarch. This is largely an honorary primacy of “first among equals” and quite different from the Roman Catholic concept of papal authority, because each of the churches in this group is entirely self-governing (autocephalous).
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople The history of Constantinople as a Patriarchate begins in 300, when the Emperor Constantine I decided to move the seat of government from Italy to the eastern region of his empire and chose this small town of Byzantium along the Bosphorus. The Ecumenical Councils of Constantinople (381) conferred upon the bishop of the city the second rank after the bishop of Rome. The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) gave a definite shape to the organization of the Church of Constantinople. From 520 onwards the head of the church became known as the ecumenical patriarch. The patriarchate holds jurisdiction over the faithful in Europe (Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, the autonomous Church of Finland, and the Russian Exarchy of Western Europe) and the Archbishoprics of Australia and New Zealand. The Archbishop of the Americas (New York) governs the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, also under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch. The ecumenical patriarchate was among the first to participate in the formation and development of modern ecumenical movement and has been involved in the WCC from its beginning. It has had a permanent representative at the headquarters of the WCC in Geneva since 1955. The patriarchate is currently involved in preparation for the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox churches. Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem The 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) granted this church the status of “independent church” and ranked it fourth after Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. It became known as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It has jurisdiction over Palestine and Jordan and counts some 250,000 Arab believers. Church services are held in Arabic and partly in Greek. One of the important concerns of this Patriarchate is the guardianship and care of the Holy Places, since the early centuries, when a monastic brotherhood “Spoudaioi” was created whose main task was the guardianship of the Holy Places. In the middle centuries after the Seijuk invasions, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and expelled the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and established a Latin Patriarchate. In 1177 ownership and control were returned to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. During the British mandate in Palestine, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was faced with the task of settling its relations with Arab-speaking
congregations. This led in 1958 to the promulgation by the Jordanian government of the law on the Patriarchate. The priests are educated in the seminary of the Patriarchate. It runs 37 elementary and secondary schools. There are three diocese: Nazareth, Acco, Jordan, and 3 exarchates: Athens, Cyprus and Istanbul. Note on The Status Quo Legislation of the HoLy Places A few words on the history, importance and continued relevance of what is known as the Status Quo Legislation of the Holy Places are in order here. The presence of Christian communities in Jerusalem dates from the founding of the first worshipping communities by the Apostles following the Resurrection of Christ. Housed in buildings scattered about the Old City in Jerusalem, and worshipping in churches located at the sites which Christ sanctified by His life on earth, the properties of the present Christian patriarchates total more than fifty percent of the real estate of Old Jerusalem alone. According to official Jordanian data, also submitted to the United Nations, the breakdown of the land and property ownership inside the Old Jerusalem city walls is as follows: Christian Properly 420 dunams Muslim Property 405 dunams Jewish Property 40 dunams Public Property 62 dunams Total: 927 dunams (1 dunam 1,000 square meters) Byzantine Emperors and later the Greek nation protected these churches and convents, and were generous with endowments of land properties, money, privileges and rights. The patriarchs and monks were to be permitted to carry out the duties involved in care and maintenance of the holy places without interference from either authorities or believers. These rights, privileges and relationships of the religious communities to the authorities were eventually codified and defined by the Ottoman Empire, among other instruments by two firmans issued respectively in 1852 and 1853. This became known as the Status Quo Legislation of the Holy Places and was in addition guaranteed under the international treaties of Paris 1865 and Berlin 1878 and later on, by the League of Nations as well. Some aspects of that legislation establish for certain Christian leaders a quasi-diplomatic status and the law also contains elements of
extraterritoriality. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa The Patriarchate counts about 10,000 believers of Greek and Syro-Lebanese extraction divided into 4 dioceses in Egypt (Alexandria, Tanta, Cairo and Port Said), one in Sudan (Nubia), one in Ethiopia (Axum) and one for cities in North Africa (including Libya-Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco). The Patriarchate has received new impetus from the establishment of new congregations in East and Central Africa, which was principally brought about by the influx of black African bishops of East Africa. Important dioceses (called also “Archbishopric of the Mission of the Patriarchate”) have been organized in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa with 40,000 members. Harare, Zimbabwe 10,000 members, Kinshasa, Zaire 20,000 members, Nairobi, Kenya 40,000 members. The second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) ranked the Patriarchate of Alexandria immediately after that of Constantinople. After the Council of Chalcedon (451) there was a division, and part of the church joined the “Cop-tic Orthodox”. The Church is governed by the Patriarch in conjunction with the Synod. It recognized the right of its members to worship in their own language, so liturgy is celebrated in Greek in Greek churches and in Arabic in Egyptian churches. In Alexandria, we find the Greek Orthodox Library, renowned for its 30,000 volumes and manuscripts, the oldest of which go back to the 9th century. it is considered one of the most important libraries for ecumenical studies and research. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East The Patriarchate saw its birth in the town in which the believers were called, for the first time, “Christians”. At the end of the 6th century, Antioch witnessed wars and political changes which continued til 638 A.D. when it was conquered and the See of Constantinople administered the church until the 15th century. In the 16th century, the See was transferred to Damascus. The church was affected by divisions occurring in the 18th century, when the Greek Catholic-Melkite Church was founded in Mount Lebanon, In the late 19th century and beginning of our century, reforms were introduced in the church and with the successive patriarchs the renaissance of the church has continued to our days.
For liturgy and prayers, the Antiochian church uses the language of the land: Arabic. It counts the largest number of believers rooted in the Arabic population of the region. While it does not fully overlap with the Arab nation in its entirety, the Orthodox Church of this Patriarchate nevertheless is markedly Arab. Today it counts about 1,300,000 Orthodox in the Middle East. Syria has six organized dioceses (Damascus, Aleppo, Horns, Hama, Latakia, Houran) with a total of 800,000 faithful. Lebanon also has six dioceses (Beirut, Tripoli and Koura, Akkar, Zahle and Baalbeck, Tyre and Sidon) with a total of about 400,000 members. The dioceses of Iraq and Kuwait number 30,000 members. The Patriarchate extends to the Arab-speaking Orthodox who live in the USA, Canada, Latin America (Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina), Australia and New Zealand with about 1,000,000 members. The St. John of Damascus Theological Institute in Balamand, Lebanon, is one of the main schools of theology for the Middle Eastern Orthodox. In 1942 the Orthodox Youth Movement was founded. It injected new dynamism into the church. From its ranks important lay and religious leaders have emerged and enriched the church. This Patriarchate endeavors to regenerate the original unity of the Middle Eastern Christianity. In addition, it is engaged in “translating” Christ for the Arab world and seeking dialogue with Muslims, with the aim of finding ways for genuine “living together”. The task is not made easier by the growing religious revivalism in the Muslim world. Nevertheless, it is exactly because of this that Christians should be moved, on the one hand, to deepen their own faith and, on the other hand, to guard themselves against unwarranted negative reactions. The Church of Cyprus “Those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 11:19). That was in 37 A.D. In 45 A.D., Paul and Barnabas, bringing Mark with them, landed at Salamis and crossed the island of Paphos where they con-vetted the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus. Barnabas later became the first Bishop of Cyprus. The church grew rapidly, and Bishops from Salamis, Paphos and Tremithus were present at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325). The Church of Cyprus received autocephalous (sell-governing) status at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) along with the Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem.
During the Byzantine era, the Church suffered occasionally as a result of Arab raids. Then, during the period of the crusades, while the island was under Frankish rulers, and later, under the Venetians, the Orthodox archbishops were replaced by Latin clergy. In 1571, Turkish rule began on the island and in 1572 the Turks expelled the Latin hierarchy and reinstalled the Orthodox leadership in recognition of their help in the war against Venice. While the situation of the Church of Cyprus improved somewhat, it continued to face difficulties under the Turks. In 1821, Archbishop Kyprianos, the bishops and 4~6 priests and lay Christians were executed in an act of reprisal and against mainland Greek revolutionaries. During the British period, Archbishop Makarios III was exiled to the Seychelles islands. Later, released from exile, he was still banned from Cyprus. Approximately 80% or more of the Cypriot minority is Byzantine Orthodox, and there is virtually no aspect of the island’s history and society that have not been touched by the Church of Cyprus. For centuries, it acted as a kind of department for social welfare, ministry of justice and ministry of education. Following the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave their homes in the occupied areas and became refugees. Their fate constitutes a primary concern of the church. Two of the bishoprics, Kyrenia and Morphou, as well as Nicosia, seat of the Archbishop, are partially or wholly within the occupied territories. In the Church of Cyprus, the Archbishop is elected by clergy and lay representatives. They are summoned for the purpose by the Holy Synod under the presidency of the Metropolitan of Paphos. In January, 1980, the Holy Synod promulgated a new charter for the autocephalous church. The Church of Cyprus has a department for the catechesis, youth and women’s programs, a relief service to refugee children, the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation, a council for the administration of church property and synodal committees for the revision of church legislation. It has many monasteries and a number of local saints are commemorated. The Church of Cyprus operates one seminary, located in Nicosia, where 60 students are enrolled under the supervision of 12 teachers. The Church of Mount Sinai The Emperor Justinian built the fortified monastery of St. Catherine and the splendid basilica
in 527. For the defense of the monks the emperor sent two hundred Christian families from Romania and Egypt. With the revival of Islam, they all converted to the new religion and remained as vassals in the monastery compound coming to be known as Jebelieh. The schism in 1054 did not affect the monastery but it was separated in the 17th Ecumenical Council of Florence (1439) during a period of anti-Roman discontent. In the first centuries after its construction, monks of every rite and nationality came to the monastery, and all could take part in the liturgy held in the twenty chapels, according to the various rites and languages. In 1516, during the war between the Turks and Mamelukes, the Arabs of the desert drove away the monks and the monastery remained empty for some time. When they returned, their number never increased to that of the 1st century. The monastery is famous with its library with more than 3,000 incunabula, 300 manuscripts in Greek and in other oriental languages, Bibles, Gospels, sacred books and the picture gallery containing precious icons of the 6th century. Archbishop Gregory of Sinai, during his visit to Greece in the summer of 1969, voiced his anxiety that the Monastery of St. Catherine might become simply a museum, and he stressed the critical need for young monks. As a result of his strenuous efforts he persuaded thirteen new members to join the community. The Greek government provided more money for scholarships to train specialists to work at Sinai in printing, the restoration and care of icons and manuscripts, and in looking after the library. The government also made a donation of modern printed books to the library, and sent a printing press to be used for the publication of a scholarly review under the auspices of the monastery and of other works on its manuscripts and treasures. An “Association of the Friends of Sinai” was founded in Greece. THE CATHOLIC CHURCHES The Catholic Church of the semitic Orient is divided into seven branches of different ethnic and cultural origins. About one half of the believers of this Church live in the Middle East and the rest in emigration. Most Westerners use the term “Catholics” and “Roman Catholics” as synonymous, the first being no more than a quicker form of the second. But this is an incorrect usage, and from the point of view of Catholics in the Middle East it is
misleading. “Catholic” is a comprehensive term for all Christians who accept the spiritual primacy of the Pope as the head of the Church. “Roman Catholic” refers to those members of the Catholic Church who follow the “rite” —that is, the form of liturgy and canon law — of the Patriarchal Church of Rome. This is known as the Latin rite. But the Latin rite is not the only rite of the Catholic Church, which includes the Byzantine (or Melkite) rite, the Armenian rite, the Syriac rite, and the Coptic rite. These are the eastern-Catholic rites of that family ‘of Middle Eastern churches which recognizes the sovereignty of the Pope and accept Catholic doctrine. The oldest and largest of the Catholic groups is the Maronite Patriarchate which claims to have preserved its union with Rome since the age of the ancient, undivided Church. Certainly there is no Orthodox counterpart of the Maronites whereas the other five Eastern Catholic Churches all broke away from the Assyrian or the Oriental and Byzantine Orthodox Churches under the influence of Roman Catholic missions of the Middle Ages. The earliest were the Chaldean Catholics who broke away from the Assyrian Patriarchate in 1522, to establish their own Catholic Patriarchate of Babylon in Baghdad. In 1622. the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch emerged, with its center originally in Turkey, now in Beirut. Then, in 1724, a similiar break-away took place within the Byzantine Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, resulting in the creation of the Greek (or Melkite) Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Later in that century, in 1773, The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate was created, with its center also in Lebanon. Lastly came the creation of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate in Alexandria in 1824. These churches are in communion with the Church of Rome and are related to the Vatican through the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches. This is why sometimes they are called uniate churches. The spirituality of the Catholic churches is rooted, on the one hand, in the tradition of the Oriental churches, and on the other hand, in the Latinized character. These Churches, therefore, are a symbiosis of oriental and western traditions. At least since Vatican II they have been interpreters of the oriental tradition in the western world. The number of theological and catechetical study centers for lay people within the Uniate Catholic Churches is increasing. Young movements which, at the outset, responded to western impulses but which at present have become integrated into the local churches are an additional source of
spirituality in the life of these churches. There exist also in the region three Catholic universities, open also for students of other confessions: the University of St. Joseph in Beirut (Jesuit fathers, founded in 1875), the University of the Holy Spirit of Kaslik (Lebanese Maronite Order, founded in 1952), also located in Lebanon, and the University of Bethlehem on the West Bank of Jordan. In these churches important signs of renewal can be observed since some twenty years ago in the liturgical, pastoral and diakonal activities. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate of Babylon The Chaldeans have the distinction of being the first uniate church established under its own patriarchate in 1552. In that year, part of the Assyrian community refused to accept the election of Simeon VIII Denha as Patriarch of the Church of the East. They sent a monk named Youhannan Soulaka to Rome where he was consecrated Patriarch of Babylon. Today the Chaldeans number 242,000 mainly living in Iraq, where they form the largest Christian community. They are organized in 10 dioceses in Iraq, Iran (15,000 members), Syria (7,000 members), and smaller communities in Egypt and the Lebanon. Chaldeans and Syrian Catholics jointly sponsor the Pontifical Seminary in Mosul, Iraq. The Seminary is directed by French Dominicans with Iraqi members on the faculty. The Chaldean liturgy is celebrated in the ancient Syriac language. The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate of Cilicia The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate was established officially in 1840. A substantial number of Armenians had been converted to the Latin-rite church at the beginning of the 14th century through the efforts of Armenian Dominican fathers known as Fratres Unitores. During the Turkish massacres at the turn of our century, the church suffered severe losses. The church was reorganized in 1928 through a synod held in Rome. The seat of the Patriarchate (originally in Constantinople) was placed in Beirut, Lebanon. It bears the name Armenian Catholic Patriarchate of Cilicia and has 35,000 members in the Middle East. The Patriarchs take the name of Peter. The recent Patriarch is John-Peter XVIII Kasparian. The seminary of Bzommar, Lebanon, was founded in 1749. It has a rich library of manuscripts. In Syria, the Armenian Catholics form a
strong minority of 12,000 members. Small Armenian Catholic communities exist in Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Jerusalem, Jordan, Europe, North and South America. The Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch Maronite history began at the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century. In 685 they elected a Patriarch of Antioch and by the twelfth century united with Rome. Maronites are Easternrite Catholics but not uniates in the same sense as the Melkite Chaldean, Armenian and Syrian Catholic Churches whose reunion with Rome came after centuries of alienation. In the 9th century the Maronites sought refuge in the mountains of Lebanon. The patriarchate moved to Bkerke in 1790 from the mountains of Qannubin. Maronites living in Lebanon number today 1,200,000. Those who have emigrated from the Middle East number as many as 6,500,000. There are 10 archdioceses and dioceses in the Middle East: Aleppo, Damascus, Beirut, Byblos-Batroun, Cyprus, Baalbeck, Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon and Cairo, and parishes and independent dioceses in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the USA, Canada, Mexico, the Ivory Coast and Senegal. There are four minor seminaries in Lebanon (Batroun, Ghazier, Am Saade and Tripoli) and a Faculty of Theology at the University of the Holy Spirit at Kaslik (USEK) which is run by the Maronite Monastic Order. The Maronite liturgy is in Syriac and Arabic. The Greek (Melkite) Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch The word Melkite means “King’s men”. It was used from the latter part of the 5th century onward to designate all Christians who have accepted the theological definitions of the Council of Chalcedon which had also become the official position of the rulers in both the Roman and Byzantine empires. It is now used primarily with reference to this one Eastern-rite Catholic Church which separated from the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem and was established in union with Rome under its own patriarch in 1724. The members are Arabic speaking and the liturgy is celebrated in Arabic. The membership of the Greek Catholic Church is concentrated in the Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. There is a smaller community in Egypt and a few parishes are found in Turkey, Iraq and northern Sudan. They have a patriarchal seminary at
Rabweh. The Paulist seminary at Harissa continues to provide an excellent level of instruction and there are minor seminaries under both diocesan and monastic leadership. The Syrian Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch A part of the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church was reconstituted as an Eastern-rite (uniate) Catholic church in 1662 through the influence of Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries who had settled around Aleppo. In 1773, the presiding bishop of this faction was given the title of Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch. The Patriarchal See, located for more than a century at Mardin, Turkey, was transferred to Beirut in 1899. The Syrian Catholics have four dioceses in Syria and two in Iraq. Patriarchal vicariates are in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. There is a widely scattered diaspora in the Americas and elsewhere. Liturgy is celebrated in the Syriac (Aramaic) language with increasing use of Arabic in certain parts of the service. Syriac is still a spoken language, particularly in some solidly Christian villages and towns of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. Theological education is provided in the pontifical seminary in Iraq, sponsored jointly by the Syrian Catholic and Chaldean Churches, and at the University of the Holy Spirit at Kaslik (USEK) in Lebanon. The Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandra There have been Catholic Copts since the 17th century but no patriarchate was established for them until 1824. This Church now has some 100,000 members, by far the largest Catholic community in present-day Egypt and the only one which is growing significantly in size. This church has a total of four bishoprics, Alexandria, Minia, Assiut and Thebes (Luxor), more than 100 Coptic Catholic schools in both upper and lower Egypt, a hospital in Assiut, a number of medical dispensaries and clinics, and several orphanages. Parish priests are educated at the Patriarchal Seminary (St. Leo’s) in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo. Franciscan Copts train the members of their own order at the Oriental Seminary of Giza. The liturgy of the Catholic Copts is an abbreviated form of the one still used by the Coptic Orthodox from which it is derived. The central parts of it are still sung by some priests in the ancient Coptic language, but there is an increasing use of Arabic in all their services.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem A Latin Patriarchate was first created in Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century and reestablished there in 1847 by the Apostolic Letter “Nulla Celebrior” of Pope Pius IX. Numerous Roman Catholic missionary orders have worked throughout the area, beginning with the Franciscans in the 13th century. One response to this impact was the emergence of Eastern-rite (Uniate) Churches. Even earlier than that, however, was the establishment of Latin-rite dioceses which continue into the present amidst the eastern churches. In most countries of the Middle East, the vast majority of Latin-rite Catholics are expatriates living in the area temporarily or permanently. In several of these however the church also has native members. The Arab Latin-rite Catholics number about 110,000 with major centers in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beirut, Cairo, Aleppo, Haifa and Nazareth.
Roman Empire. Already by the middle of the second century it was beginning to get its independence from the Antiochian church. This independence allowed its bishops the full power to consecrate patriarchs without reference to Antioch. Its Faith The Eastern Church goes by the “NiceneConstantinopolitan Creed” agreed upon in the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, calling for one Church, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Eastern Church believes in the one God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and in Jesus Christ, totally God, and totally Man, two natures and two hypostases in one person, and in the Virgin birth of Christ, in one Baptism and in the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father. Persecutions and Sufferings Since its very inception, the Assyrian Church has never been able to settle in one specific country. Because of persecution and massacres, its believers were forced to emigrate every hundred years. This fact has pushed the Assyrian Church to transfer its Patriarchal See from Salik and Katisphon (Madde’n: Babel) to Arbeel, and from there to the extreme north mountains of Hakara (Kojanes). During these difficult and sensitive times the Assyrian Church has lost all its possessions, such as churches, convents and schools, the latter since the 6th and 7th centuries several years alter they used to be considered as among the best colleges in the world, in particular the schools of Nassibeen and Al-Raha. This Church suffers today from many problems, including the difficulty of establishing schools, convents and churches and the absence of theological schools in its various bishoprics. However, lately, schools have been established in Baghdad (Iraq) and Chicago (USA), alter a decision taken by the Holy Synod in 1984. Continuing Emigration The Assyrian Eastern Church is spread over many parts of the world, it exists in the east and in the west, in the USA, India, Australia, Europe. It counts about 250,000 members with bishoprics in Iraq (82,000), Syria (30,000), Iran (20,000), Lebanon (5,000), India (15,000), Australia (15,000), the USA and Canada (80,000), Europe (the European bishopric includes the U.K., FRG and Sweden with 4,500 members). Emigration is still a problem, because of
The Assyrian Church of the East
A separate mention needs to be made concerning the Assyrian Church of the East which remains outside all the other families of churches on the alleged ground that it followed the teachings of the excommunicated Nestorius. Historical Background The Assyrian Church is one of the oldest churches of the East. It has been a missionary church as early as the first generation of Christianity in Mesopotamia. Its message went as far as India, China, Tibet and Mongolia. Its presence linked the Mediterranean Sea to the West and India to the East and due to its location East of the Roman Empire, it was called “Eastern Church”, besides having been known by many other surnames, among which the Church of Fares (Persia). The Assyrian Eastern Church was one of the first churches to be established. It has given many a martyr of faith, as it gave many thinkers and scientists who greatly contributed to Arab culture. The more regrettable it is that the fate of these people today is one of poverty. It was designated by the Arabs as the Nestorian Church, because it was thought by some that the Assyrian Church was established by Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 5th century. In reality its See was in Salio, Katisphon (Al-Madae’n) or Babel, at that time the Patriarch of this See being Mardad Yashu. Thence, this church knew nothing about the theological argument that was debated in the western part of the
facilities given by the North American and Australian authorities. Also, the members of the Eastern Assyrian Church constitute a nation, people and language. This has caused them to endure all sorts of direct and indirect persecutions. In one country, they may be persecuted because they are Christians, in another because they are Assyrian. Thence also, in some countries, their young people are not admitted to the army, security forces and diplomatic services. The Assyrians hold that, first, they are Christians and, second, Assyrians and accept no compromise in this regard.
The Evangelical and Episcopal Churches in the Middle East
The complexity of the Middle East church history often seems beyond comprehension to western Christians, and has often been beyond their patience to understand. The summary given here is simplistic at many points, but we hope it may serve to give a generally accurate orientation, and that therefore it will shed some light upon the enormity of the challenge of inter-church relations facing Christians in both the Middle East and the West. Significantly this challenge needs to be met within the wider context of the Church’s future relationship with Islam, since it is Islam which provides the religious, social, cultural, and in some places, the political environment in which the Eastern churches live. The historical and contemporary presence of Muslim communities throughout Europe may also have much relevance in this regard. The 16th century reformation movement which fragmented the Catholic Church in the West did not have any sustained impact upon the Eastern churches before the early 19th century when Anglican, Lutheran and various Protestant missionary societies began to be active in the region. While these certainly contributed much in the areas of education and social services, they did not succeed —from their evangelical point of view — to understand, far less appreciate, the equally authentic Christian traditions of the indigenous churches. The overall result of these missions was further ‘conversions” from the Assyrian, Oriental and Byzantine Orthodox Churches, and to some degree from the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches. The largest Protestant group comprises the Evangelical Reformed Churches which grew up amongst the Armenians, Copts and Syrians, and organized themselves in national synods. Most of
the Baptist Churches are linked to the Southern Baptist Convention of the U.S.A. The Anglicans come under the Episcopal Archdiocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The main Lutheran Church is in Jordan. These churches have retained neither patriarchal structure nor affiliation. Today, the Evangelical and Episcopal Churches are a small minority (some 2.5% of the Christian minority in the Middle East), characterized more by their diversity than unity, which goes back to their varying cultural backgrounds and differing concepts of history of salvation. Their missionary origin has not endowed them with any significantly corresponding unity. At the very outset, missionaries did not strive to foster unity and rather tended to value diversification. Recent and current crises and events gravely affected the process of independence from the missionary societies, generating new and additional difficulties and setbacks. Today, these churches are forced to envisage and develop a theology of survival in a non-Christian environment. In this respect the young churches stand much to learn from the Orthodox. The Evangelical Churches are the third “family of Churches” that constitute the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) since 1974. Both within the ecumenical movement in the Middle East as well as worldwide, they have played a pioneering role. Today, many of these initiatives have gained ground and flourish in a number of other churches and ecumenical organizations where Evangelical Christians participate and collaborate. Unfortunately, this important role played by the mainline Evangelical and Episcopal Churches in the area is being challenged by a conservative, non-ecumenical neo-missionary movement from the West which continues to disregard the theological value and vocation of the local churches as well as the achievements of the ecumenical movement. These new groupings also disregard the importance of that movement for an effective witness in the area. The National Evangelical Union of Lebanon The National Evangelical Church came into being in 1847, when a small group of Lebanese Evangelicals decided to found a national Evangelica Church in Beirut by presenting a petition to this effect to the missionaries working in Beirut at the time. For quite some time, the pastors of this church were Arabic-speaking missionaries until 1890, when Yusul Bard, a Lebanese Presbyterian minister was installed as the first Lebanese pastor of the Church. In 1870 a church was built on a compound that was used by both the Lebanese and American
congregations. The membership of the Church comes to about 6,500 persons, spread in and around Beirut. In the mid-sixties the National Evangelical Church of Beirut joined hands with about eight other congregations in the suburbs and mountains around Beirut and formed the National Evangelical Union of Lebanon. The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon Beginning in 1819, a number of missionary representatives came to various parts of the Middle East. Those who responded to the Bible message came to be known as “injiliyyeh”, a term based on the Arabic word for Gospel. The Protestant faith was given official recognition in Lebanon in 1848. In 1851, a church was organized in Hasbaya on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, and the following year a church was founded in Aleppo, Syria. In the next few years churches were established in the Syrian city of Horns, in South Lebanon at Sidon, and in two Lebanese mountain villages. In 1870, these churches reported a total of 243 adult communicant members. The present membership is about 10,000. In 1920, after Syria and the Lebanon became independent, the church was reorganized as a single Synod. In 1959, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon assumed responsibility for much of the educational, medical and evangelical work formerly related to the Presbyterian Church, USA, the major mission body at work in the two countries. The Synod shares with other Middle Eastern and overseas churches the sponsorship of the Near East School of Theology (NEST), a graduate school of theology which trains leaders for churches of the area and the surrounding region. The Coptic Evangelical Church - Synod of the Nile The Evangelical Church in Egypt started in 1854. It became independent from the Presbyterian Church, USA in 1926. The moderator is elected every year. Since 1860 the church has been active establishing schools. In 1865 it founded the Assiut American College. The agricultural department of this college, established in 1928, contributed to the improvement of dairy farming in the country. The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo trains pastors to serve in various Arab countries. Most of the ministers are Egyptian. In a concerted effort, the Egyptian ministry of social affairs participated in the activities of the literary
committee which was begun in the l930s. Youth centers have become a vital part of the life of the church. The first youth organization was founded in 1916. The Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS) and the Organization for Developing Church Projects have become important social agencies of the Church. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iran The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iran developed out of the work of the American Presbyterian and congregational missionaries, the first of whom came to Iran in 1934. The work was begun among the Nestorian Assyrian Christians of the Urmia (Rezaieh) district in north-western Iran. In 1855, several Protestant congregations came into existence in and around Rezaieh. The first presbytery was organized in 1862, and other presbyteries later. Today, services in Iran’s Evangelical congregations are held in the Persian, Turkish, Syriac and Armenian languages. In 1943, all the Evangelical churches in Iran joined together in a union of synod, which became an independent national Iranian church. In 1963, it adopted a new constitution and took the name of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iran. The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East was officially inaugurated in January 1976. It succeeded the old Jerusalem archbishopric and was established in accordance with principles set at the Anglican Consultative Council in Dublin in 1973. It consists of four dioceses: Jerusalem, Egypt, Iran, Cyprus and the Gulf. The President is elected by the Synod from among the diocesan bishops. The diocese of Jerusalem has considerable responsibilities for schools and welfare centers and works among the aged and the handicapped. It also ministers to many refugees. St. George’s college in Jerusalem continues to perform its particular role in providing facilities for study and research. The diocese of Iran ministers to Christians of all nationalities in the country. The diocese of Cyprus and the Gull ministers not only to British and American expatriates but also to Pakistanis, Indians, Palestinians and others throughout the area of the Gull. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan Protestant mission work in the Holy Land started in the middle of the 19th century by missionary societies from England and Germany.
They founded congregations and schools in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Jerusalem. Later, congregations were established in Ramallah and Amman. In 1959, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan formed a Synod and a Church Council and was recognized by a royal decree. Today the ELCJ has its first native Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Daoud Haddad as the spiritual head of the church. Together with its partnership it operates five schools. These schools support and strengthen the Christian minority in the Holy Land by offering Christian education in a predominantly non-Christian environment. Union of The Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East Beginning in the second decade of the 19th century as an indigenous reform movement with the Armenian Orthodox Church, it developed into an independent community in 1846 in Istanbul, and in subsequent decades registered a membership of 60,000 throughout the Ottoman Empire. After the First World War, when the Armenian population was decimated and the remnants deported from its historical homeland in what is now called Turkey, the Union was reorganized in Syria and the Lebanon. The Union is composed of 24 autonomous congregations (about 10,000 faithful). It provides also a ministry for a number of Assyrian Protestant congregations. The Union operates many secondary and high schools and owns the Haigazian Union College and together with the Arabic-speaking Evangelical Churches, the Union also operates the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut. Evangelical Church in Sudan The Evangelical Church in Sudan was founded by missionaries of the United Presbyterian Church, popularly known “American Mission”. In 1965, the mission decided to transfer responsibility for Evangelical work in the Sudan to the Sudanese themselves. Thus the Council of the Evangelical Church in the Sudan was created and took charge of the management of the schools and institutions belonging to the American Mission. At present the Church maintains six schools, a literature center in Khartoum and a literacy program for women. It has congregations in Atbara, Wad Medani, Port Sudan, Kosti, El-Obeid, Dueim, Hassa, Hassa and Shendi. Episcopal Church in Sudan The first successful attempt by Protestants to establish a church in Khartoum is to be credited to
the Anglican Bishop Llewellyn Gwynne. In 1899, he started to work in Qmdurman. The year 1904 saw the laying of the foundation stone of the first Anglican Church in Khartoum. This church was considered as a diocese of the Jerusalem Archbishopric until 1974, when it reverted to the sole jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury as an extra-provincial diocese while awaiting the setting up of the new province of Sudan. The province, consisting of four dioceses: Juba, Omdurman, Rumbeck and Yambio, was inaugurated in 1976. Theological education is provided at Bishop Gwynne College. Presbyterian Church in the Sudan The Presbyterian Church in the Sudan is the fruit of missionary activity in Sudan by Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in the USA. It achieved autonomy in 1956. Christian believers in the Upper Nile had first been organized into a presbytery of the Nile, partly in order to include members of the Reformed Church in America who served as missionaries in the Upper Nile, This Church is the third largest church in the country after the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. It maintains close relations with the United Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
Denominational and non-Denominational Protestant Churches
The following churches do not take part in the ecumenical movement, nor are they member churches of the Middle East Council of Churches. Baptist Churches in the Middle East These churches have a small but growing membership with a wide variety of missionary origins. Those related to the Southern Baptist Convention, USA, are located primarily in Lebanon and Jordan, with smaller groups in Egypt, Palestine and elsewhere. They maintain several elementary and secondary schools, a hospital in East-Bank Jordan, Bible correspondence courses, an extensive radio ministry, and a pastoral ministry to expatriates in the Arabian Peninsula. The Arab Baptist seminary (at Mansourieh near Beirut) is a member of the Association of Theological Institutes in the Middle East. Armenian Evangelical Spiritual Brotherhood The Church was established in Beirut in the early 1920’s. It is related to the Armenian Evangelical Brotherhood Churches in the world, which have three main branches: South America,
North America, Europe & Middle East. It is administered independently by a committee of elders elected by the congregation. In Syria the Armenian Evangelical Brotherhood has a church in Aleppo, and in Damascus the Church is being reorganized since 1985. The Evangelical Assemblies of God The Evangelical Assemblies of God in Lebanon is related to the Assemblies of God in the USA. It was granted the right of establishing churches, schools, orphanages, etc. by a presidential decree in 1956 in Lebanon. It is active in regular church worship services, a drug ministry and Bible correspondence ministry which leads to B.A. in Bible studies. Seventh Day Adventists - Middle East Division The church has existed in Beirut since 1904. Adventist congregations are found in Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, Iraq and Iran. The Adventists maintain a number of elementary and secondary schools and training centers for pastors and the Middle East College, a liberal arts institute in Beirut. The Church of Nazarene This church has a total of some twenty small congregations and three schools in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. The Church of Christ This church began missionary activity in Lebanon in 1961 and now has three organized congregations along with a Bible training school in Beirut. A program of literature and a Bible correspondence course extend to Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The congregation in Tripoli (Libya) is comprised entirely of expatriates.
The Church in the Gulf
It may come as a surprise to some to
discover that there are churches in the Gull States. In fact the Christian church has been there for many centuries. By the end of the second century A.D. the Mesopotamian and Parthian church had more than twenty dioceses, including centers around the Gulf such as Barse, Qatar and Ahwaz. This “Church of the East” (subsequently called ‘The Nestorian Church” and today called “The Assyrian Church” which exists in Iraq and Iran) was very significant in the first seven centuries of the Christian era. It seems to have been the area from which the Gospel was spread to places further East, for example to India in the early centuries and to China in the seventh century. Today many churches in the Middle East have congregations or dioceses in the Gulf. The Orthodox Church of Antioch has the diocese of Baghdad and the Gulf. The Armenian Church has the Prelature of Kuwait and the Gulf, the Coptic Orthodox Church has a diocese based in Kuwait. The Anglican Church has developed from a variety of sources. The British Forces were served by chaplains who also encourage the formation of congregations for other expatriates. The Gull Archdeaconry was formed in 1970 and this led to the establishment of the Anglican Diocese in Cyprus and the Gulf in 1976. The Roman Catholic Churches in the Gulf came mainly from India and East Africa. Capuchin Fathers, centered on Aden, began church buildings alter the end of World War II in Bahrain and elsewhere. In Kuwait there is a Roman Catholic church and a cathedral. Today there is another cathedral at Abu Dhabi, the center of the Diocese of Arabia, with chaplaincies at all the main centers, as well as schools and other facilities. In the last few years the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Church of India, the Church of South India and the Urdu-speaking Church of Pakistan have established parishes or congregations in several centers, usually sharing Evangelical or Anglican church facilities.
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