Tuesday, March 3, 2015

David Bertaina Reviews The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700

UPDATE: Also, if you read Russian, a more scholarly review by Yulia Petrova has just come out in the Ukrainian journal Східний Світ / The World of the Orient. It can be read here.

The Winter 2015 issue of Sophia, the quarterly journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, features, among other articles of interest, a review by David Bertaina, Associate Professor of Comparative Religions in the History Department of the University of Illinois at Springfield, of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources

The entire review can be read in pdf here.


The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700

By David Bertaina, PhD

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources. Edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger. Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. 375 Pages. $35.

The fourth century was an age of conflict between the Nicene faith (which we profess each Sunday at liturgy) and the heresy of Arianism (the belief that Jesus was a lesser deity separate from God). At one point, the Roman Emperor Valens even tried to force his citizens to follow him into Arianism. In response to his coercion, the Roman ally and Arab queen Mavia rebelled against his policies, successfully receiving an orthodox Arab monk named Moses as bishop of her people. Christian Arabic poetry even commemorated this triumph, according the fifth-century Church historian Sozomen. 

Stories such as this one remind us that Arab Christianity is an ancient faith, stretching back millennia into Roman times. With this in mind, The Orthodox Church in the Arab World should be recognized as one of the most important resources published for English-speaking Melkites in recent years. The book reminds its readers that Arab Christians have remained standard bearers for Christianity and contributed to the cultural vibrancy of the Middle East in the midst of Islam. Indeed, the book reminds Melkites about the historical origins and development of their identity.

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World is aimed at non-specialists, including those interested in the history of Christianity and those seeking to increase their faith. It introduces non-Arabic speakers to the biblical studies, theology, lives of the saints, historical writings, poetry, and inter-religious writings of Arab Christians from 700-1700. In other words, it covers Arabic-speaking Christians in the Levant from the rise of Islam until the split of the Church into the Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic Churches.

The introduction to the book, a real gem thanks to the editors, Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, provides a concise historical survey of Arab Christianity from its origins to the eighteenth century. They address its origins before the rise of Islam, its significance related to Muhammad, Christian responses to the Muslim conquest, life under the Umayyads in Damascus (661-750), the height of Christian Arabic literature under the Abbasids (750-1258), Arab Christians during the Byzantine reconquest of Antioch, relations with Crusaders, Mongols, and Mamluks, and finally the situation in relation to the Ottomans.


History is one of the most profitable ways of understanding Melkite identity. It enables us to imagine a world greater than the one we presently experience and to empathize with the peoples who have walked the same earth and contributed to its present state. The introductions to each chapter and the quality translations in this book provide moments of entertainment, suspense, historical insight, and a reason to believe in the faith that has been preserved and shared by Arab Christians.

I strongly recommend The Orthodox Church in the Arab World as a way to learn more the Melkite Church, its history, its identity, and what that means for us today. The Orthodox Church in the Arab World is a treasure to be read and shared widely.


Aleksandr Andreev said...


I am contacting you from St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. We are need of some liturgical texts in Arabic. Do you know where we could find some texts, preferably in MS Word format?



Samn! said...

Hi Alexandr

I'm not sure where they can be found in Word format, but you can find pdf's of the Divine Liturgy and some other services here:


Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I just ordered it.