Christianity in the Middle East

Turkey Saint Sophia

St Sophia Cathedral behind me  A symbol of the Sad History of Christianity in the Middle East. Mostly a museum for tourists but Sultan Erdogan  wants to turn it into a Mosque. another one of his actions meant to stick his finger in the Eye of the Wes

THE TRAGEDY OF THE CHRISTIANS of THE MIDDLE EAST

This is from an article I wrote for the Jewish World Review about a year ago with slides from one of my presentations at the John F. Kennedy  Special Warfare Center and School.

Christmas has not been a particularly happy time for Christians of the East for many decades, and much of it is the result of the West’s indifference and their  more recent habit of burying their heads in the send to avoid confronting the Islamist  ( political Islam, the ideology) threat.

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The West, especially Western Europe, has shunned the Christians of the East as their Christianity has been mostly replaced by Hygge (a  lifestyle of Scandinavia emphasizing comfort and contentment)

I was discussing the sad plight of the Christians of the Middle East a few days ago with a Lebanese friend who recited a familiar refrain for the near extinction of the Christian communities of the Middle East. The basic reason he insisted was the Church teaching on “turning the other cheek.” In the face of militant Islam of the Arab expansionist era, the aggressive Muslims overwhelmed passive Christian communities, Then faced with dhimmi status, that of a second class citizen, they gradually assimilated or emigrated to non Muslim lands. As the story goes, the battle of Yarmuk presaged the fate of the Christian Byzantine Empire and   from there on, Islamic success brought more successes with many Christian communities switching sides at critical times.

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The Early Christians had to battle with a number of heresies centered around the nature of Christian…… fully human, dual nature, fully divine. Docetism   held Christ was totally totally ethereal, a phantasm, and Arianism  held that Jesus was wholly Human, the son of God but not consubstantial  ( three persons of the Trinity, i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)

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The Christians continue to divide and splinter into factions

The ill fated Crusades, ostensibly to regain the holy land from Islam, exemplified the basic deadly dichotomy of Christian East and West . “ Mutinous” soldiers of the fourth crusade (1204) attacked and sacked Constantinople, the Christian capitol of the Byzantine Empire. The lands of the longest lasting empire in history were divided up among the victors and the Byzantine Empire was too weak to withstand the unceasing expansionism of the Ottoman Empire. The destruction of Constantinople by Christians of the West really defines the basic weakness of Christianity of both West and East; they were always divided and at each others throats. The separation of the East and West church in 1054 came about principally over the issue of leadership, but the Western Church began to view the Eastern Church as idolatrous, providing a veneer of religious motivation for the sack of Constantinople. After that the Christian community began to splinter into many communities, at times persecuting one another. An example of this was the Greek Byzantine persecution of the adherents of the Latin Church driven into the mountains of Lebanon, now known as Maronites.

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Pope Urban II Nov 27, 1095 urges Christians to begin the Crusades to regain the holy land overrun by the Islamic Conquest.  “Deus Vult” God wills it.

 

In the modern era I observed up close the disintegration of the Christian communities and their pathetic efforts to survive in a world in which they are, at best, only tolerated.. In every surge of Islamic fervor, such as the brutal Islamic State expulsion of Christians, they have been subject to depredations.

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A Cave near Ephesus  used by Christians to escape the depredations of the Romans.

 

One would think that the Christian communities, driven apart by divisive opinions on the nature of Christ, with complex and often obscure inscrutable theological arguments, would band together to maintain their survival, but they do not and never have. Moreover they tend not to feel any commonality with other non-Christian minorities in the Islamic world, such as the Jewish, Yezidi, and Sabeans and have fought bloody wars with the Druze minority.

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The well at the site of the home of Paul the Apostle in Tarsus Turkey maintained by two Muslim Brothers who show you around for a few Turkish Lira. I drank from it despite my reservations. Saint Paul  kept me well. Praise the Lord!!

To my initial surprise I found that many Eastern Christians had antipathy to Judaism similar to that of the Muslims. This is, at least partially, a result of the often fruitless, but totally understandable, attempts of the Christian clergy to curry favor within their Muslim communities by finding some commonality. An egregious example of this happened in 2010 Baghdad when a number of Chaldean Catholic churches were attacked, and the Church leaders blamed Zionists. This sort of pathetic attempts to avoid blaming Muslim extremists only makes them seem weaker and somewhat ridiculous. It was Ibn Khaldun who wrote that subjugated people under the yoke of tyranny tend to acquire characteristics of “ insincerity and trickery.” So it has become for Christians in the Arab world.

\In Lebanon, the bloody civil war described by the media as a war between Christians and Muslims, but in fact, most Armenian Christians and Greek Orthodox avoided taking part. At the end of the Lebanese civil war the Maronites were reduced to killing each other. This war revealed another cleavage in the Christian community; an ethnic division added to the religious one, as Greek Orthodox consider themselves Arabs while the Egyptian Copts, Armenians, and Maronites do not.

Two other factors have also diminished the Christian communities of the Arab world. One is the proclivity to seek the protection of despots as shelter against Muslim hostility. Thus Christian communities have supported Saddam, Assad, and Mubarak. Of course when they go down, enmity for the Christians increase.

Secondly the Western powers have manipulated the Christians of the Middle East for their own purposes. The British used the Assyrian Christians in Iraq as an auxiliary force to maintain themselves in power, with tragic consequences for the Assyrian people as the British lost control. In the Levant the French sought to maintain a Maronite state to secure their empire after WWI but then greedily included the heavily Muslim Bekaa valley as part of Lebanon, which has had the sad result for the Christians losing their controlling status in Lebanon. Western Protestant missionaries came to the East, not to convert Muslims, but convert Eastern Christians to Protestantism, adding another dimension to their disunity. Today as their numbers continue to dwindle., the   secular West has essentially lost interest in the plight of the Christians in the Near East.

Nothing so illustrates the disunity of the Christians more than the state of the most sacred of Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Six Christian denominations claim residence, but unable to agree on who should maintain the key and open the Church, the Church elders depend on two Muslim families to do so.

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About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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