Middle Eastern Christians: A minority in numbers only

The realities and attitudes to faith and community of Arab Christians are starkly different from their Western counterparts, because they are immersed and shaped by the manifold struggles surrounding them, writes Harry Hagopian.

Father Emmanuel Gharib, Chairman of the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait and Pastor of the Kuwaiti Presbyterian Church, leads a Christmas mass at the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait City on 24 December 2021. [Getty]

Being in my groaning fifties, I am long enough in the tooth to know that faith is not usually static. It is often a struggle, at times frustrating and at others rewarding, that seeks constant renewal. Being myself an Armenian member of a numerically-challenged ‘minority’ community, I suppose I am constantly tempted by an ethnocentrism that could easily seek reassurance in an insular or even sectarian approach to faith that claims Caesar for everyone but God for oneself!

This epistemic sense of self-examination – or re-questioning if you prefer – came back to me only a few days ago as I celebrated Western Christmas in a somewhat solitary format due to the COVID pandemic.

Here in the UK, this feast has gradually become synonymous with holidays, parties, obligatory dinners with family members, mistletoe, mince pies and puddings, an exchange of gifts or board games and long walks. Yet somewhere along the line, the West in its majority has forgotten that this feast also celebrates the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem who became the Christian Messiah for a whole new religion let alone a prophet for Muslim believers too. But this is not the case with Christians in the Middle East. Their realities are starkly different, and so are their attitudes to faith and community.

This is what I would like to share briefly with readers today, not by regurgitating easily-researched facts and figures but by highlighting key points that illustrate the Arab Christian indigenous presence in the Levant.

“The priorities, joys and concerns of a Christian in Palestine are not the same as those of Christians in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Egypt. So it is vital that one does not paint them all with the same broad brush” 

The first item that springs to my mind when talking about the Middle East and North African Christians – some 10 million of them altogether – is that they are not a monolithic body. They are quite different from each other not only in their faith-related rituals but also in their sociological settings. The priorities, joys and concerns of a Christian in Palestine are not the same as those of Christians in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Egypt. So it is vital that one does not paint them all with the same broad brush. Each country retains its specificity and even its peccadilloes.

But demography and geography aside, what often concerns me at some ecumenical conferences I attend is that such events do not always define themselves as being in solidarity with the Christians of the Middle East or celebrating their millennia-old faith. Rather, they are perceived as events in solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the East. This distinction is critical, but why, you might well ask me? After all, are Christians not suffering from persecution?

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL ARABY (UK)

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