Thursday, February 25, 2016

J Edward Walters reviews The Orthodox Church in the Arab World

The new issue of the Syriac Studies journal Hugoye came out today. It includes a valuable bibliography of recent Russian works on Syriac and Christian Arabic, prepared by Grigory Kessel and Nikolai Seleznyov. This issue also features a review of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources by J Edward Walters of Rochester College.


The texts, and thus the history of Arabic-speaking Christians have too long remained out of reach to Western historians of Christianity, sequestered as they are by historical developments that isolated these Christians from the West and the language barrier that Arabic presents. In the present volume, Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger take a significant step toward filling this gap by offering an anthology of Arabic texts in English translation that display the range and diversity of the Arabic Christian tradition. This range covers both a broad span of time (as the sub-title suggests, roughly 700-1700 CE) and genres. As such, these texts offer a small, but representative sample that displays the vitality of this understudied and undervalued literary tradition. Several of these texts have never before appeared in English translations, and several have never appeared in any Western language.


In the Introduction, the editors also offer an overview of Christian literature produced in  Arabic. Throughout the course of this overview, the editors place each text included in this  volume within a broader literary and historical context, which is particularly helpful for scholars who are new to these materials. This overview of Christian Arabic literature shows the range of genres that Arabic-speaking Christians adopted. Each text includes a brief introduction by its  translator and a bibliography for further suggested reading.


All of the texts chosen for this volume are interesting in their own right, but the collection of these sources into a single volume, with helpful introductions and bibliographies, makes this book an invaluable resource for the study of Arabic Christianity and, indeed, the history of Christianity more broadly.


Henceforth, historians of Christianity will have no excuse to remain ignorant of the Arab Orthodox tradition. The editors and translators are to be commended for creating such a valuable resource and at such an affordable price. And indeed, in the current socio-poltical atmosphere in which there is so much ignorance concerning the history of Christians in the Middle East, their efforts deserve a wide audience.

Read the entire review here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Patriarch Theophilos at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring, Debeen

This is a significant sign of reconciliation between Patriarch Theophilus and the Orthodox community in Jordan. Although I'm not sure it was ever officially announced, as can be seen from the video, Archimandrite Christophoros was not only allowed to continue as spiritual father of the monastery but is congratulated by the patriarch for his service in this capacity. Additionally, the nun Irinea was installed as the monastery's abbess. Axia!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh on Francis and Kirill's Joint Statement

Arabic original here

Francis and Kirill... The People of Syria Know Best

There is no doubt that the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Russia, just in its being held, is a historic achievement in relations between the churches and in restoring unity between Christians. A joint statement was issued by the head of the Church of Rome and the head of the Church of Russia in which they agreed on a variety of complex issues. In this article, however, we will only deal with what pertains to Christian-Muslim relations in our countries, which is being subjected to intense tumults due to the difficult conditions that are afflicting all the people of these countries.

The joint statement talks about Christians as being "the victims of persecution" and as being subjected to "extermination" or "expulsion" and that "their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted"... and this is to a great degree true. However, it is an inadequate depiction of the situation, since it limits the victims of persecutions to the Christians. The statement does not use the same expressions when it talks about "he faithful of other religious traditions", but rather is content with stating that they "have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence." This phrasing involves absolute judgments that are imprecise, unfair discrimination, and makes the statement unbalanced.

Christians and Muslims are, without discrimination, equal in sin and righteousness. Some of them persecute and some are subject to persecution. Some are partners with the regime regime, and practice killing and torture. Muslims are not all friends of God and they are not all demons. Neither are Christians all saints, nor are they all devils... the victims of massacres and forced expulsion are Muslims and Christians. There are Muslim cities and villages that have become ruins in the blink of an eye. Thousands of mosques have been destroyed... It would have been better not to use the phrase "who have also become victims" because this has the sense that they have not been victims from the beginning of the troubles and that what is happening to them is only a reaction.

The joint statement limits itself to only mentioning two of the countries in the Middle East, Syria and Iraq. It calls on "the international community" to make an effort to "to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action," then directs an appeal to "all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action" and urges Christians to pray fervently that there will not be another world war. This talk remains general so long as it does not specify certain matters that must be completely clear. Therefore we wonder:

1. Who are "the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism" mentioned by the joint statement? Our reason for asking this is that there is no country left on earth that has not intervened in Syria under the pretext of combating terrorism. Answer us, for God's sake, is what is meant by "the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism" America, Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey or Israel? Each one of these countries has been accused by one side or another participating in the war of supporting terrorism.

2. Is what is meant by terrorism what is being done by extremist religious groups such as ISIS and others, or the state terrorism practiced by all the countries implicated on land, sea, and air? Did our countries enjoy peace and well-being before the appearance of ISIS and those resembling it? Has there not been terror ruling there tyrannically for decades?

3. Why does the statement fail to mention democracy or to demand freedom for all the people of these countries, so that they can choose the form of government that they deem appropriate? Is there not in this oversight a hidden statement in support of dictatorial regimes in the region? Is there not in this indirect support for what might be called an alliance of minorities in the face of the Islamic majority?

4. Why does the statement fail to mention the State of Israel and the terror against the Palestinian people that continues to occur there? Do Palestinians not deserve a demand for their right to return to their homes? Or have political alliances with the State of Israel prevented treating this fundamental issue which, if not for it, we would not have reached this point of humiliation?

It seems that this statement, in terms of the ambiguities it raises, provides a justification for those who seek a justification for intervening in Syria to secure their interests under the pretext of combating terrorism. It would have been appropriate for this statement to sound the word of truth.

It is good that the joint statement calls for the release of all captives, among them the bishops of Aleppo Paul Yazigi and Yuhanna Ibrahim. These two bishops are the ones who represent Antiochian Christianity in its deeply-rooted history and singular quality of openness to its Muslim fellow-citizens. No outside intervention will preserve Christians, when over many periods, both recently and in the past, Christians have attempted to call upon foreign interventions but quickly regretted it after seeing their grave consequences.

We have no other path to peace apart from Muslim-Christian partnership based on equality and justice-- that is, based on full citizenship. No solution that is not pleasing to the Muslims will be of any use, especially if this solution uses force. We, the children of Antioch, the Great City of God where the disciples were first called Christians, we know the affairs of our country best. Yes, "the people of Mecca best know its twists and turns" and we the people of Syria best know its twists and turns.