Category Archives: Middle Eastern Christianity

Modernity, Murder, and Coptic Identity

by Candace Lukasik

Bishop Epiphanius

On July 29, 2018, one of the most beloved bishops and scholars in the Coptic world, Bishop Epiphanius, was found murdered outside of his cell at the St. Macarius monastery. He was on his way to Midnight Prayer when he was assaulted and struck in the back of the head. While the Egyptian state has now officially charged an ex-monk and an accomplice at the monastery with the murder, Coptic social media prior to this was abuzz with speculation, not only for the murder’s brutality but also because of the way it brought to a head a century-long internal debate about Coptic identity.

For most Western Christians, Coptic Christianity offers a powerful testimony to modern martyrdom. Several American Christian leaders point to violence against the Copts in order to garner attention for the persecution of Christians in the modern world and to shape US policy. In this regard, US activists and scholars tend to portray Coptic Christians as passive, premodern victims of modern religious violence. Such characterizations fail to recognize the extent to which the community has undergone a series of transformations and divisions of late. Continue Reading…

Chrétiens d’Orient, 2000 Ans d’Histoire: A Major Exhibit in France

by Michael Peppard   |  ελληνικά

I spent over an hour there, in that small rotunda, about twenty feet across. Display cases of manuscripts in Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, and Armenian encircled me, the only one of the museum’s patrons to linger so long in that spot. The rest of the exhibit, outside this temporary cloister, was equally worthy of attentive study, but this room captured my senses and held me still. It was the music, played on a loop, that transfixed me: the Akathist hymn, the ancient prayer about the life of the Virgin Mary, resounded in Armenian, in Arabic, in Greek, in Syriac, and in Coptic. Choirs from each tradition sang their version of the hymn, a shared patrimony that emerged from Syria to inspire Orthodox Christian worship everywhere. On the wall near the entrance flashed full-size, high-resolution renderings of frescoes from medieval churches in Lebanon.  This installation was titled “Languages and Liturgy,” and it certainly felt liturgical to the senses. Only the incense was missing.

I needed the whole hour not only for the manuscripts, but also for the monumental icon of the Akathist hymn on display. Attributed to Youssef al-Musawwir of Aleppo, painted between 1650-67, and part of the famed collection of Georges Antaki, the icon’s panels depict the twenty-four strophes of the hymn, surrounding a central image of King David. The panels are labeled in Greek, while David holds a phylactery with text in Arabic. Though the Akathist is attributed to Romanos the Melodist, the icon portrays the Psalmist David as a divine guarantor of the icon’s revelatory authority about the Virgin Mary. And just as the Theotokos is central to Orthodox Christian prayer around the world, so also is she to this rotunda, in a small museum in northern France. Continue Reading…

The Systematic Persecution of Religious Minorities in Turkey

by the Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский

Despite the world-wide recognition of the status of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, the government of Turkey will give no legal standing and status to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the historical Holy Center of Orthodox Christianity at the Phanar, in Istanbul. The lack of legal standing and status in essence nullifies property and other fundamental civil rights in Turkey for the Ecumenical Patriarchate which precludes its full exercise of religious freedom.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot own in its name the churches to serve the faithful or the cemeteries to provide for their repose. Since it lacks a legal standing, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is powerless to pursue legal remedies to assert property rights or even seek to repair deteriorating property without government approval.

Instead and in lieu of legal standing, Turkey has established a system of minority (community) foundations for Orthodox Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities to hold properties supervised and controlled by the Turkish government’s General Directorate of Foundations. The Directorate regulates all the activities of religious community foundations which include approximately 75 Greek Orthodox, 42 Armenian and 19 Jewish foundations. The 1935 Law on Religious Foundations, and a subsequent 1936 Decree, required all foundations, Muslim or non-Muslim, to declare their properties by registering the same with the General Directorate of Foundations. Continue Reading…

Western Intervention and Mideast Christians: Lessons from the Nineteenth Century

by Mark L. Movsesian  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский  |  српски

The history of Christian persecution in the Middle East – which, sadly, is quite long, though not unmitigated – should inform the strategies we use in our relief efforts for Mideast Christians today. One important episode from this history that is worth considering is the 19th century Ottoman movement known as the Tanzimat, which caused unintended harm to Armenians and other Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

The Tanzimat – the word in Turkish means “Reorganization”– was a wide-ranging reform movement from the 1830s to the 1870s. The reforms were promoted by the West, which sought, among other things, to relieve the situation of Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Although the movement was well-meant and had some success, in the end the Tanzimat exposed Christians to a violent backlash and actually worsened their situation. I believe the episode offers lessons for today. Continue Reading…