TheCradle ofOur Faith The enduring witness of the Christians of the Middle East …love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Introduction …love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
An Enduring Witness • This slideshow is based on a booklet printed by the PC (USA). • The seven countries profiled in this slideshow span two continents and vast stretches of geography. • Our continuing mission in the Middle East • The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a long-standing relationship with Middle Eastern Christians. • Presbyterian missionaries began arriving in the Middle East in the 1820s, establishing schools, hospitals, and Protestant churches, many of which continue to flourish to the present day as leading institutions for education and health care.
Living Stones • The Christians who live in the Middle East today are the “living stones” of the Early Church: a vital, dynamic presence in a region that is both the cradle of ancient civilizations and the site of contemporary geopolitical developments that affect us all.
At its roots, Christianity is an Eastern religion, born and matured in the Middle East. The great diversity of Christian peoples, sects, and denominations in the Middle East is a testament to the fact that the region has been a vitally important corridor among empires throughout the centuries. It is also a testament to the diversity of the peoples who have chosen to follow in the steps of Christ and his apostles who opened up the faith to the whole world. But now, after two millennia of continuous presence, Christianity is on the decline in its birthplace. The Christian communities of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, and Syria have all experienced a dramatic decrease in numbers, shrinking in some countries to a mere 10 percent of their former size over the last century. These are communities that trace their roots to the first century of Christianity. At its roots …
Christian Exodus • Many point to the rise of fundamentalist Islam as a primary cause of the diminishing numbers of Christians in the birthplace of Christianity. The dwindling numbers, however, cannot, be reduced to a single issue. Christians from each of the countries treated in this book have a unique narrative. • The root causes for the declining numbers are diverse, complex, and often interrelated, including economic necessity, human rights abuses, political repression, corruption in governments, and quality of education.
No Man’s Land • Because of a common perception that America and Europe are made up of “Christian nations,” the Christian communities of the Middle East have become symbols of the West in the minds of their neighbors. In these days of the “clash of civilizations” mindset, Middle Eastern Christians can feel lost in a “no man’s land,” lacking full acceptance by East or West. Though deeply and thoroughly Eastern in history and culture, they are now seen as allies of the West because of their religion.
Backlash • Because of this connection, Christian churches often bear the brunt of misdirected local anger when Western Christians are perceived as aggressively hostile to Islam. Christians experienced a backlash in reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in September 2006 that offended Muslims. After the Pope’s statement, attacks in the West Bank and Gaza caused damage to five churches. Around the same time, two churches in Iraq were damaged and two priests were killed.
Conflict & Turmoil • In a region devastated by turmoil and conflict, wars between states, civil wars, revolutions, ethnic cleansing, and foreign interventions have caused untold hardship to the peoples of the Middle East since the end of World War I. • A huge wave of Armenian refugees was scattered around the Middle East in 1915 during the Armenian genocide in Anatolia (now Turkey), when half of the world’s total Armenian population was massacred. As a result, there are substantial Armenian populations throughout much of the Middle East.
End of Ottoman Rule • Ottoman rule over the Middle East through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was resented throughout the region as the empire fell into decline and corruption. The defeat of Ottoman Turks in World War I brought colonial British and French mandate rule, which was resisted by emerging militant nationalist movements. • Within a quarter of a century, the Arab states of the Middle East had achieved independence from the European colonial administrations: • Egypt in 1922 (nominal) and 1954 (full) • Iraq in 1932 • Syria in 1940 • Lebanon in 1943 • Jordan in 1946
No Self Rule for Palestine • When Israel was formed in 1948, Mandate Palestine, unlike its neighbors, was not granted self-rule and self-determination, but became a zone of mounting conflict. Britain not only maintained its colonial presence but presided over a massive influx of European Jews fleeing European anti-Semitism and Nazism, which ultimately led to the partition of Palestine. • Sixty years after the end of colonial rule elsewhere in the region, Palestinians (both Christian and Muslim) living under the forty-year Israeli occupation continue to yearn for statehood, independence, and self-determination.
The Western-sponsored establishment of a Jewish state in the Arab Middle East, predictably, brought stresses to relations among Middle Eastern Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Sadly, the Mizrahi Jewish communities that once prospered in Alexandria, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Tehran are now shadows of their former vital selves or are extinct. The wars of 1948 and 1967 created waves of Palestinian refugees whose descendents number in the millions, many of whom still live in United Nations administered refugee camps in the region. There are over 4 million refugees in the greater Middle East and a total of 8 million worldwide. According to the United Nations, Palestinian refugees comprise one-third of the global refugee population. A Jewish State
Since the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq in 2003, an estimated 40,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Syria as a result of death threats by religious extremists. Although exact figures cannot be confirmed, Christians continue to flee Iraq in large numbers. Fortunately, many Iraqis fleeing their country have found security and religious freedom in neighboring Syria. During the Israel-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006, Syria received Lebanese refugees fleeing Israeli attacks on their country. The Syrian Red Crescent Society provided food, water, and medical care, while the government opened schools and other institutions to accommodate Lebanese citizens. Recent Turmoil
Syria …love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Syria Statistics • Total area: • 71,183 sq. miles • slightly larger than North Dakota • Population: • 18,881,000 • Languages: • Arabic, Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian, French, some English • Religions: • Sunni Muslim, 74%; Alawite, Druze, other Muslim sects, 16%; various Christian groups, 10%; plus tiny indigenous Jewish communities • GDP per capita: • $3,900
Christians Today • With approximately 1.8 million believers, Syria has the second-largest Christian population in the Middle East, after Egypt. • From the earliest days of the church, Syria has provided a place of refuge from persecution. Today, Syria continues to offer security, humanitarian relief, and religious tolerance to refugees fleeing violence in the region, including Iraqis and Lebanese.
An Ancient Christianity • The ancient Arameans of the Old Testament, who inhabited the country from about the first millennium BC, are the ancestors of the present-day Syrians. • A great majority of these Arameans spoke Aramaic until about the seventh Christian century, when the rise of Islam made Arabic the official language. • Aramaic is still used in the liturgy of the Syrian, Chaldean, and Maronite Churches.
A Diverse Christianity • The majority of Syrian Christians belong to the Eastern communions, which have existed in Syria since the earliest days of Christianity. The main Eastern groups are the autonomous Orthodox churches; the Uniate (Eastern Rite churches, which are in communion with Rome); and the independent Nestorian Church. • Even though each group forms a separate community, Christians nevertheless cooperate increasingly through their ties with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and the Middle East Council of Churches.
A Richness of Liturgies • The largest Christian denomination in Syria is the Greek Orthodox Church of Syria. The designation “Greek” refers to the language of liturgy, not to the ethnic origin of its members. Arabic is also used. • The second-largest Syrian Christian group is the Armenian Orthodox, or Jacobite, Church, which uses an Armenian liturgy. Many of these Armenian members of the great Christian family of Syria escaped the massacres and deportations that took place in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) from the early 1890s to the early 1920s.
Arab Christians • With the exception of the Armenians, most Christians in Syria are Arab, sharing pride in the Arabic culture and traditions. In proportion to their number, more Syrian Arab Christians participate in political and administrative affairs than do Muslims. Especially among the young, relations between Christians and Muslims are improving.
Shaping Church History • The abundance of archeological remains dating to the early Christian Era, as well as the currently functioning churches dating back to the fourth century, attest to the uninterrupted presence of the Christian community in Syria as well as its important role in shaping Christian history.
Government Recognition • Christian holidays are official state holidays and members of the clergy are excused from military service. • Christians in Syria enjoy considerable rights within its secular system and perceive the regime as their protector. Christians find it easy to obtain authorization to repair or build churches and to pray or have processions in public without harassment. Religion is not mentioned on identity cards.
The Apostle Paul & Syria • The ancient wall that surrounds the Old City of Damascus was built during the Roman Era. The “Street Called Straight” (Acts 9:11) is the 2000-year-old Roman “Via Recta.” • St. Paul’s Church in Damascus was built in the fourth century on the site where the Apostle Paul hid from his enemies. It was from this city wall that Paul was lowered in a basket by his disciples, to later become the apostle to the Gentiles. • There were already Christians in Damascus when Paul was converted on his journey there. Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute those same Christians, many of whom had fled persecution themselves.
We Pray Together… . . . that the Syrian government will continue to provide religious freedom as well as refuge for those fleeing danger and persecution in surrounding countries. . . . for the safety and well-being of Iraqis of all faiths who have found refuge and hospitality in Syria since the invasion of Iraq.
Lebanon …love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Lebanon Statistics • Total area: • 6,448 sq. miles, • 0.7 times larger than Connecticut • Population: • 3,874,050 • Languages: • Arabic, French, English, Armenian • Religions: • Muslim, 59.7% (Shi¹a, Sunni, Druze, Isma¹ilite, Alawite or Nusayri); Christian, 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Coptic, Protestant); other, 1.3% • GDP per capita: • $6,200
The Creation of Lebanon • Lebanon was created in 1920 by France out of the Greater Syria colonial mandate with the aim of establishing a Christian-majority nation within a Muslim-majority region. Since then, Lebanon has struggled to build a unified national identity out of its multi-confessional diversity.
Christians no longer a majority • Lebanon is the only Middle Eastern country where Christians were once dominant and still retain considerable political power. • As the Christian population has declined relative to others, so has their influence. Although an official census has not been taken since 1932, it is estimated that Christians now comprise only about 35 percent of the population.
Power Sharing • The relative size of its various religious communities is a deeply sensitive issue; Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war was fought largely along sectarian lines. • Many Muslims believe that Christians hold disproportionate political and economic power. Some Lebanese Christians do not identify themselves fully as Arabs. • To assure political representation of all religious communities, Lebanon’s constitution prescribes a power-sharing formula under which the president is a Maronite Christian, the speaker of the Parliament is a Shi’a Muslim, and the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim.
The Maronite Christians • The Maronite community, named for a Syrian hermit named St. Maron, is Lebanon’s largest Christian group, with a population the size of all other denominations combined. • The Maronites began as a schismatic sect of the Orthodox Church in the 7th Century and were considered heretical for subscribing to Monothelitism. Cast out, many Maronites sought refuge in Lebanon’s mountains. Their descendents live in mountain villages throughout the country today and Maronite monasteries continue to have a strong presence.
A split endures to the present day in what is commonly called Eastern and Western Christianity. This is not to be confused with the split between Rome and Constantinople, the Catholic/Orthodox split which occurred later in the 11th century. The Catholic and Orthodox Church are both in the Western branch of Christianity Maronites ended up as part of the Western church; they have been in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church since the Crusader period. Today, their patriarch has the rank of cardinal. The East-West schism among Christian sects of the Byzantine Empire occurred in the era of Islam’s emergence and partly explains the unprecedented speed of Islam’s expansion. The East West Split
Refugees in Lebanon • Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in overcrowded refugee camps, struggling to meet basic human needs. They are barred from working in dozens of professions, receiving Social Security, or owning or inheriting property.
Israel-Lebanon War 2006 • The Israel-Hezbollah war lasted 34 days during the summer of 2006 and cost the Lebanese economy well over $2.5 billion. • Roughly one million Lebanese were displaced, 1,200 Lebanese civilians were killed (a third of them children) and 15,000 homes were destroyed. • An estimated one million unexploded Israeli cluster bombs continue to cause death and injury in southern Lebanon.
PC (USA) and Partners • Presbyterian missionaries arrived in Lebanon in the 1820s and have had a strong presence ever since, founding schools and graduate learning centers such as the American University in Beirut and the Near East School of Theology. • The NEST provides a Protestant seminary education for students from the entire region. The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), which plays an important role in the work of social justice throughout the region, was based in Beirut for many years.
We Pray together . . . . . . for a government that represents Lebanese of all confessions and a determination among all Lebanese to work for the good of the country.
Jordan …love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Jordan Statistics • Total area: • 57,226 sq. miles, • slightly smaller than Indiana • Population: • 5.9 million • Languages: • Arabic; English widely understood • Religions: • Sunni Muslim, 92%; Christian, 6% (mostly Greek Orthodox, some Greek and Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant); other, 2% (some Shi¹a and Druze) • GDP per capita: • $4,700
The Old Testament in Jordan • Why did the the men of ancient Israel find the women of ancient Jordan irresistible? King Solomon was famous for his love of “foreign” women, including Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. • Nehemiah mentions the many marriages of Jewish men to women from Ammon (Amman) and Moab (central Jordan). Moses’ wife Zipporah hailed from Midian (southern Jordan). And Ruth of Moab was great-grandmother to David.
More Old Testament • Twenty miles south of Madaba is Mukawir, ancient Machaerus, the fortress built by Herod the Great. Here Herod imprisoned John the Baptist and Salome danced. • The Old Testament records Moab’s conquest by the Israelites, after which it was granted to the tribe of Reuben. After the Moabites regained control of the area in the ninth century BC, Isaiah (15:2) gloomily prophesied, “…Moab shall howl over Nebo and over Medeba…” Lot sought refuge from the Lord’s fire and brimstone in Jordan, and Moses, Aaron, and John the Baptist all died there.
Moses at Mount Nebo At 2,700 feet above sea level, Mount Nebo rises above the Dead Sea (1,400 feet below sea level), providing a panoramic view across the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Moses is believed to have been buried on Mount Nebo after looking from its heights into the Promised Land he would never enter. (Deuteronomy 34:17)
From the Roman Era to Islam • During the Roman Era, Christianity spread rapidly in what is now central Jordan. By 451, Madaba had its own bishop. In its heyday from the third to the seventh century AD, Madaba was the major Christian center on the east bank of the Jordan River, drawing scores of Christian pilgrims and residents. • Madaba surrendered without a struggle to the Muslim armies in the early seventh century, which allowed the city to retain its Christian identity. Churches were built and Christian-themed mosaics were laid for at least a hundred years into the Muslim Era. Abandoned during the Mameluk period (1250-1517), Madaba’s ruins lay untouched for centuries.
The Crusaders • Petra, southern Jordan’s magnificent Nabatean rose-rock city, was also abandoned beginning in the eleventh century. When the Crusaders arrived in the Jordan area in the early twelfth century, Christian monks still inhabited the Monastery of St. Aaron on Jebal Haroun, the highest mountain in the Petra area. • To defend this territory, the Crusaders built a string of fortresses, including the great fortress at Karak. By 1189, however, the last of the eastern fortresses, the Li Vaux Moise castle near Petra, surrendered to Saladin, opening the way for the Muslim armies to liberate Jerusalem and effectively ending the foreign domination of Jordan.
Ottoman Rule to the present • Four centuries of Ottoman rule (1516-1918) brought a period of general stagnation to Jordan, as the Ottomans were primarily interested in Jordan for its importance to the pilgrimage route to Mecca. • Modern-day Jordan gained independence from Britain in 1946 and became the Hashemite Kingdom in 1950. King Abdullah II claims a direct lineage to the prophet Mohammed.
Modern Jordan • Jordan affirms Islam and has at the same time been open to modernization. In general, Muslims and Christians live together in Jordan with little tension or discrimination. Jordans religious minorities are well integrated into urban neighborhoods and society. • Since the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdom, Christians have been guaranteed freedom of worship, religious education, and parliamentary representation. More than half the Christian population is in the middle or upper class in Jordan and is highly educated, which has led to a high level of participation in public administration.
Jordan’s Refugees • Since Israel’s founding in 1948, Jordan has taken in over 1.7 million Palestinian refugees. Today, Jordanians of Palestinian descent comprise over half the population. Jordan’s future is inextricably tied to developments between neighboring Israel and the Palestinians. • Jordan was a destination for Palestinians fleeing the conflict in Kuwait in 1991. Since 2003, Jordan has received hundreds of thousands of refugees (Christian and Muslim)from neighboring Iraq. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Iraqi refugees absorbed by Jordan total over 700,000, with more arriving every day.
Today’s Christians • Jordanian Christians today are mostly Greek or Eastern Orthodox with Armenian, Syriac, and Coptic churches representing the Oriental Orthodox Church. • There are also Greek Catholic (Melkite), Armenian Catholic, and Latin Catholic churches in Jordan. Evangelical (Protestant) churches include Anglican, Lutheran, and Baptist churches whose missionaries began arriving in the mid-1800s. • Christian churches have a significant impact on society because of schools and hospitals founded by the various denominations.
We Pray Together … …for Jordan’s people as they struggle to welcome many thousands of Muslim and Christian Iraqi war refugees. …for Christian schools, hospitals, and other institutions that minister to the needs of all Jordanians.