by Paul Gadalla
The current situation is bleak for Christians in the Middle East, largely split between the Oriental and Byzantine rites. They are hemmed in by dictatorships, sidelined by political Islam and exploited by militia groups while their pleas for aid are generally disregarded by Western powers.
Yet despite their dwindling numbers and waning influence, petty squabbles between Middle Eastern Christian churches remain to this day despite various ecumenical meetings. Even worse, these squabbles have spilled into lands outside of their traditional borders. It is bewildering to hear clerics and lay people even here in the U.S. accuse others of not “being Orthodox” while our house, the Church of Christ, is littered with literal and figurative infighting. Continue reading
by Mariz Tadros
On the 18th of May, 2019 G., a Coptic female nurse living in Sydney, Australia was suffocated by a plastic bag and stabbed seven times as she was leaving the hospital after completing her night shift. The murderer was her husband. Insider information suggested that on the 16th of May, a high-ranking member of the Coptic Orthodox clergy pressed that she return to her husband despite being informed that her husband was allegedly a drug addict and was continuously beating her. It is alleged that G. did not want to return to her marital home, but she was told this is her cross and she must carry it. The case is the latest in a string of incidents that we have witnessed in Egypt and among the Coptic Diaspora of women sacrificing their lives as they succumb to the clergy’s pressures upon them to bear their cross. Another case in Brighton a few years ago involved a very similar scenario: a woman violently killed by her husband had been pressured into returning to her marital home. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity shared that the local parish (Coptic) priests had pressed the victim to return to her marital home-against her expressed wishes not to return to him—and despite their awareness of his long history of wife-beating. While they did not physically force her, according to the sources, they certainly exerted a lot of pressure, urging her to bear her cross for the children’s sake. Continue reading
by Christopher Sheklian
Last month, the Court of Cassation in Turkey ruled that the historic and contested Sanasaryan Han will be the property of the Turkish state. Built in 1895, the Han (“Inn”) was bought by the foundation established by the philanthropist Mkrtich Sanasaryan to support the Sanasaryan College in the city of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia. It was put under the administration of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920. In 1928, the Turkish State confiscated the building and maintained its revenue and rights until the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey filed a lawsuit for its return with the Istanbul 13th Civil Court of First Instance in 2014. After a circuitous legal route, the Court of Cassation—the court of last instance for civil and criminal cases—ruled last February (2018) for the admissibility of the lawsuit and filed for the return of the title deed to the Armenian Patriarchate. Widely seen to be a major victory for the Armenian Patriarchate and the question of religious minority properties in the Republic of Turkey, it seemed the Armenian Patriarchate would assume the deed within a couple years. Last month, however, the same Court of Cassation ruled that the title deed will remain with the Turkish state. The lawyer in the case, Ali Elbeyoğlu, plans to appeal the case to the Constitutional Court.
The case of the Sanasaryan Han is just one case—albeit a very high-profile case—regarding the properties of religious minority groups in the Republic of Turkey. Continue reading
by Paul Gadalla
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Pope Tawadros II
Orthodox churches in the Middle East are facing their gravest existential threat since the Arab Conquest. The church communities in Christianity’s historic cradle are faced with shrinking flocks due to the lure of immigration, threats of sectarian violence, and increasing societal marginalization. With fewer members and less clout, church leaders have bet their waning political capital on secular—but often brutally oppressive—dictators in hopes of attaining communal survival, pitting their beleaguered flocks against protest movements calling for change.
Orthodox Christians raised in the West might be left scratching their heads at the sight of the Orthodox patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch standing in solidarity with strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ask: how are men of God dealing with such leaders? How can the church remain silent in the face of brutal repression and even war crimes?
The answer to the church’s moral and political quandary is not simple. And a millennium of fraught church-state relations in the Middle East will likely take centuries more to unwind—if Christian communities there can survive that long. Continue reading