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Orthodox Christians in the Middle East Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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