End of Christians in the Middle East?

In 1997 a Scot named William Dalyrmple wrote a book called ‘From this Holy Mountain’. He travelled in the footsteps of a Christian monk, John Moschos, who lived in the 6th century. Moschos went on pilgrimage to Christian monasteries in what are now the modern day countries of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Egypt. It was a time when the Christian majority was giving way to the growth of Islam.

Travelling in 1997 aided by the journal of this 6th century monk, Dalyrmple visited those same monasteries. A minority continued to flourish (particularly in Greece and Egypt), most however hung on with a few caretakers or in ruins. What he found was an uneasy coexistence between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority. But what seemed inevitable given the trajectory was a time when no Christians would remain in their historic homeland.

One area where Christians were thriving in 1997 was Syria, with approx. 20% of the population being Christian. Given that Syria was ruled by a secular dictatorship of the Assad family, minority groups including Christians were paradoxically allowed freedom of religion. The Christians worried what would happen to their fragile freedom if the secular dictatorship were replaced by Islamic extremists.

Now we see an unintended consequence of the destabilizing of the Assad government (as with the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq). The vaccume of power has unleashed widespread persecution of Christians. In today’s news it was reported that 150 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped by ISSIS (Islamic State) in NE Syria.

Assyrian Christians have been a community since the first century and are referenced by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 5:13. They have survived persecution throughout their history including an attempted genocide by the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1915. As a people they have fled from place to place seeking freedom to worship and walk in the way of Jesus.

Assyrian Christian

Today more Assyrian Christians live outside the middle east than within their ancestral lands. Even today they speak Aramaic which was the language that Jesus was believed to have spoken. For those of us who are Christian this little known group is a living link to the earliest days of the church and to Jesus himself.

Dalyrimple in his 1997 journey found holy places venerated by both Muslims and Christians where both groups lived and worshipped together. This was particularly true around places of healing and fertility where saints were venerated. Such places of common ground had occurred since the 6th century but now are rare.

Now Islamic extremists such as ISSIS have twisted Islam to fit their message of intolerance and hatred. If left unchecked a day may arise in the foreseeable future when there is no longer a place for minorities such as Yazides, Bedouins or ancient Christian sects such as the Assyrian Church. When that day comes all of humanity will be diminished.

Join me in praying for these 150 kidnapped Assyrian Christians and for all who suffer intolerance and persecution. Let us pray and work to build bridges of understanding and hope.

2 thoughts on “End of Christians in the Middle East?

  1. Wonderful writing as always, Kent. I have always been fascinated that in the early stages of Islam, education, learning, and tolerance were hallmarks of their philosophy. Somewhere, that changed. Unfortunately, intolerance and extremist factions are more vocal in all religions sects.

    I know you realize the point of view I come from. I try to be understanding. However, your point of the sinister rise of a twisted use of Islam is on point. The true goal is power, with fundamentalism as one powerful tool.

    I worry that the Christian side will chose a similar path (you know the good old USA is a Cristiaan country with an obligation to OUR God as opposed to theirs)

    I shudder at the thought of a nuclear confrontation with those that not only see an afterlife as better, but as a goal.

    Joe B

  2. Thanks Joe. There’s a powerful book called The Family, which came out a few years ago which exposes a shadow power movement since the 1920’s to today within the halls of our government and military which mixes US nationalism with Christian fundamentalism. Joe, your point that fundamentalism within any faith community can lead to intolerance and excess is very true. The rise of ISSIS is so blatant and immediate that it rises all types of fears for Christians and Muslims. I was flying recently and sat with a physician from Turkey who is a moderate Muslim and lives in fear of the fundamentalism within his own faith. The challenge is how to minimize the excess and even violence that comes when any group seeks to impose its ‘truth’ onto others.

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