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Brigid of Kildare
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« on: January 12, 2003, 10:34:31 AM »

This is an interesting piece from the Church of Ireland Gazette and can be found online at http://gazette.ireland.anglican.org/030103/books030103.htm.

The author is a journalist from the Irish Times who has recently been ordained to the Anglican ministry.

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Wise men from the East and Christians in Iraq

As the prospects of war with Iraq begin to loom, Patrick Comerford, in the first of two special features, looks at Iraq’s religious communities and its Christian minority.

The Christmas season traditionally comes to an end on Monday next, 6th January, with the Feast of the Epiphany, when the church commemorates the wedding at Cana, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and the visit of the Magi to the Child Jesus.

Although the magi remain anonymous and numberless in the Gospel story, since early times they have been given names and numbers, ranging from three in the West (to correspond to their three gifts) to 12 in the East (to symbolise the 12 disciples or the 12 tribes). They are often called kings, although they were religious rather than secular figures. Yet, it is humbling to be reminded that the first people to bow down before the Christ-child, Jesus, were visiting gentiles, and to remember at this time that they came from what we know today as Iraq.

Some theories speculate that the visiting magi were from Arabia; others suggest they were from Persia. But most scholars today think they would have come from Babylon or Mesopotamia in present-day Iraq. The magi in the Bible are often portrayed as sorcerers, such as Simon Magus (Acts 8: 9-24), and as astrologers. But King Nebuchadnezzar, in his frustration with the inept magi or priests of the court, also makes Daniel chief of the magi or wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2: 48).

Long after the exile, many Jews continued to live in Babylon and Mesopotamia. The witnesses of the first Pentecost in Acts included ‘Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia’ (Acts 2: 9), so we can say the early church included among its first believers inhabitants of the area we know today as Iraq.

Many of the churches in Iraq today continue to use Syriac, a language close to the Aramaic spoken by Christ. As the season of peace draws to a close and we appear to be on the brink of another war, it is important to be reminded that Iraq is a biblical land and that there is a strong and vibrant Christian community there today.

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« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2003, 10:35:31 AM »


Wise men from the East and Christians in Iraq (continued)

A SMALL MINORITY

Today, Christians are a small but important minority in Iraq. In a population of 23.1 million people, there are about 650,000 Christians. Although the constitution describes Islam as the state religion, all citizens are supposed to be equal before the law, without distinction, and freedom of religion, belief and worship are guaranteed. Many Muslims are shocked by the overt secularism of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist party, while prominent politicians include Tariq Aziz, a member of Iraq’s largest Christian community, the Chaldeans.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis (96%) are Muslims. The Sunni Muslims are a minority (33%) but form the urban middle class and exercise influence and power beyond their numbers in urban, economic, social and political life. However, the largest numbers in the Muslim population (63%) are Shia Muslims, like their neighbours in Iran.

Iraq is also home to a number of interesting minorities. The Jews of Iraq were once an important community, culturally and socially, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically in recent generations. The Baha’is have a long history in Iraq, first fleeing persecution in Iran, where they were accused of blasphemy and heresy.

Two minorities almost unique to Iraq are the followers of the Yazidi and Mandaean religion. The Mandaeans trace their story back to at least the 2nd century AD, and their religion includes traces of Judaism and Gnosticism. They claim to be the original disciples of John the Baptist but are sometimes known as Sabeans and are recognised in the Quran, along with Jews and Christians, as ‘people of the Book’, monotheists with a scriptural heritage.

The Yazidi religion blends elements of Zoroastrian, Manichean, Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices. They are often accused of being devil worshippers because of the prominence they give to the fallen angel, Malak Ta’us, who manifested himself in 12th century founder, Shaikh Adi.

EARLY CHRISTIANS

Iraq’s Christians can justly claim they are a Biblical people: they trace their origins to the first Pentecost and the early missionary activities of the Apostles, especially Thomas. The early church in the region developed rapidly so that by the 4th century there was a thriving church in Mesopotamia that was part of the Patriarchate of Antioch. At one time, the see at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, just south of Baghdad, was the most important Christian centre outside the Roman or Byzantine Empire.

After the church in Mesopotamia declared its independence, the other Eastern Orthodox churches accused it of the heresy of Nestorianism, which it has always denied. Despite its isolation and accusations of heresy, the Assyrian Church of the East, as it became known, was a vigorous missionary church, sending missionaries to the Far East who reached Tibet, China and Mongolia centuries before the voyages of Marco Polo.

The Assyrian church survived the invasions by Muslims and the horrors of the Crusades. Although numbers dwindled through wars, persecutions and massacres, these Christians maintained their unity until the arrival of Latin missionaries, intent on suppressing Nestorianism and bringing about union with Rome. These efforts eventually caused a major rift in the 16th century, and the main churches have remained divided for almost 500 years.

UNIQUE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES

Today Iraq is the only Middle East country in which the largest church of the Christian minority is in communion with Rome. The Chaldean Church is a uniate church, dating back to 1552. That church survived further splits in 1672, 1681, and the 1790s and again in 1830, and remains a vital force in the Christian world of the Middle East.

Despite these divisions, the Assyrian Church of the East survived, although there have been further internal divisions, rival patriarchs, massacres at the hands of both Kurds and Turks, and grave disappointment at the failure of the West to recognise Assyrian claims to nationhood after the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

Anglican missionaries from both SPG and CMS were present in Mesopotamia from the 1840s, but insisted their purpose was to assist the local church and not to proselytise or to establish a new church. At the early Lambeth conferences, there was considerable interest in the Assyrian Church and some speculation about imminent Anglican-Assyrian inter-communion. Irish missionaries from CMS who worked in Baghdad and Mosul included the Revd Ernest E. Lavy, a medical graduate from TCD, and Dr George W. Stanley from Dalkey. But World War I disrupted their work and the mission came to an end in 1919.

Apart from the Chaldeans and Assyrians, Iraq’s Christian minority today includes the Syrian Orthodox Church; the Syrian Catholics and Greek Catholics or Melkites, who are both in communion with Rome; the Armenian Apostolic Church, which also remembers genocide and massacre at the hands of the Turks; and a tiny Greek Orthodox community. Others include Presbyterians, Lutherans and Adventists, and there is also a tiny Anglican presence in Baghdad.

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAMS’ WARNING

In recent generations, there has been a steady migration from the traditional Christian towns and villages in northern Iraq, so that the majority of Christians today live in Baghdad. All the churches report the number of Christians in Iraq is shrinking as many leave the country. Those who remain fear the way extremists can use the conditions created by sanctions against Iraq to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians and portray the Western powers, particularly the US and Britain, as Christian nations carrying out a new crusade against Islam.

Archbishop Rowan Williams has warned that a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein could ‘rapidly and uncontrollably spiral down into chaos’. He has claimed that presenting Saddam as a martyr could strengthen the hand of extremist groups in the surrounding countries. ‘Christians in the region, without exception, say their position as minorities would be put seriously at threat,’ he said.

Trocaire points out that ‘in the event of military strikes against Iraq, it is certain that the civilian population will pay the highest price’. But already the people of Iraq are suffering: since 1991, at least 315,000 children under the age of five have died as a result of the sanctions imposed originally with the intention of forcing an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. There are serious food shortages; child mortality is at 125 per 1,000; one quarter of all under-fives are malnourished and one quarter of the adult population shows signs of starvation.

One of the Wise Men in T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, after his return from Bethlehem to Babylon, is left wondering:

Were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

At Epiphany, one is left wondering whether the counsels of wise men will prevail, or whether the Christian people of another biblical land will be denied the promise of peace that was part of the Christmas message, and face more death and destruction.

The Revd Patrick Comerford is Southern Regional Co-ordinator of CMS Ireland.

Next week: The ‘Just War’ theory and the prospect of war in Iraq.
-¬ Church of Ireland Gazette 2003
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« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2003, 03:42:26 PM »

Many thanks for these articles from the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. These churches (Anglican) aren’t orthodox but on this topic — war with Iraq — they are right in line with the truth.

I never knew the Chaldean Catholics outnumber the Assyrian Church. Interesting reversal of the usual argument: one of the selling points of Eastern Orthodoxy is that it far outnumbers Byzantine Catholics.
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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2003, 03:23:49 PM »

Dear Friends:

In an accompanying article during  the consecration of Bishop Andraos Abouna, auxiliary of the Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans (Baghdad, Iraq),  by Pope John Paul II in Rome last January 6th,  it was reported that, of the estimated 650,000 Christians throughout Iraq, 600,000 belong to the Chaldeans, i.e., Orthodox in Communion with Rome.  

The remaining 50,000 is distributed among the Assyrian Church of the East, the other Oriental Catholics, and tiny Protestant denominations.

In his interview, Bishop Abouna was quoted as saying:

Quote
In Iraq, one advantage of being a tiny Christian minority is that the denominational differences that loom so large in the West seem almost inconsequential. Relations between the Caldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian “Church of the East,” numbered among the Orthodox churches, are strong, with almost complete inter-communion.

In Baghdad, the Chaldean seminary also accepts Assyrians, Armenian Orthodox, and Syrian Catholics, and all the students take the same classes together. Abouna also announced that the Vatican has plans to offer five scholarships for Orthodox seminarians from the Church of the East to study in Rome.

It is often pointed out that Tariq Aziz, Hussein’s key aide, is himself a Chaldean Catholic.  

The article also mentioned that there are around 150,000 Chaldean Catholics in the U.S., mainly in and around the Detroit area.


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« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2003, 04:15:39 PM »

Today Iraq is the only Middle East country in which the largest church of the Christian minority is in communion with Rome. The Chaldean Church is a uniate church, dating back to 1552. That church survived further splits in 1672, 1681, and the 1790s and again in 1830, and remains a vital force in the Christian world of the Middle East.
Actually, the largest Christian Church in Lebanon is the Maronite Church, which is in communion with Rome, although there is a significant Orthodox presence there as well.

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« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2003, 04:37:20 PM »

[it was reported that, of the estimated 650,000 Christians throughout Iraq, 600,000 belong to the Chaldeans, i.e., Orthodox in Communion with Rome.]

Correction:  Eastern Christians Under Papal authority.

Orthodoc (Catholic In Communion with Constantinople and all Canonical Orthodox autocephalous and automonous churches)  

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« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2003, 04:38:55 PM »

Dear theodore:


I think you got it all mixed up.

Brigid's quote concerns about the Chrisitian minority in IRAQ and elsewhere in the Middle East.  Throughout the Middle East where the minority is Christian, these Chirstians are Orthodox. Only in the case of Iraq where the reverse is true: the Christian minority is Catholic, i.e., they are Chaldean Catholics.

LEBANON should be out of the question because, traditionally and historically,  Christians in that country have (always?) been:

(1)  the MAJORITY, Maronite Catholics constituting roughly 63-65% of the total population; and

(2)  the Maronites claim that they never were out of communion from Rome, the See of Peter, and, therefore, they are not "uniates" like the rest of Eastern Catholics;

Hope this helps.


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« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2003, 05:24:17 PM »

OK, I think I’ve got this straight. There are two Middle Eastern countries where the Christian majority are Catholic: Lebanon (Maronite, sui generis) and Iraq (Chaldean, the only case I know of where the Catholic breakaway is bigger than the original church). In one of these, Lebanon, the Christians are the majority; in Iraq, like in most other Mideast countries, they are a minority.
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« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2003, 05:49:48 PM »

Dear Serge:


Right on the button!

From another perspective, the four ancient Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople in the East are now encircled by Islam.  And the states/governments in these centers of apostolic Christianity are all Islamic/Islamist(?).

The only Christian nation surviving (hopefully not temporarily) this onslaught of Islam in the Middle East is Lebanon, whose Maronite Catholics (of the Syriac tradition) are descended from the Patriarchate of Antioch.

What would it take for Christians, of all flavors, to recover these ancient Patriarchates?


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« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2003, 08:13:47 PM »

In one of these, Lebanon, the Christians are the majority; in Iraq, like in most other Mideast countries, they are a minority.

Not true, Serge.  Amongst all the Arabic countries, Lebanon has the largest Christian presence relative to Muslims, but the former are no longer the majority.  Many have emigrated during and after the war, and still do today.  Christians are a minority now, but significantly larger than they are in countries other than Lebanon, and quite influential.

The President is still required to be a Maronite Christian.

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« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2003, 08:27:56 PM »

Quote
In Iraq, one advantage of being a tiny Christian minority is that the denominational differences that loom so large in the West seem almost inconsequential. Relations between the Caldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian “Church of the East,” numbered among the Orthodox churches, are strong, with almost complete inter-communion.

Just as I said in another thread.  

It is significant to note that the existant conditions described above are capable of fostering such strong relations between these two Churches, even when one of them refrains from granting St. Mary the title of Theotokos.*

*The Assyrians are the only Apostolics that I am uneasy with.   They are a tough case.  Apostolics, but still find themselves unable to accept the "Mother of God" as a proper theological title for St. Mary.  We Chalcedonians can acknowledge that our theological differences with the Orientals are workable, but in my opinion, that is hardly so with the Assyrians.

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« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2003, 10:38:04 PM »

Thanks for the info, Samer. As I recall the Christian and Muslim populations in Lebanon historically were about equal and the civil war there in the 1980s was caused or aggravated by a new imbalance in the population in which the Muslims outnumbered the Christians.
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« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2003, 10:06:35 AM »

Thanks for the info, Samer. As I recall the Christian and Muslim populations in Lebanon historically were about equal and the civil war there in the 1980s was caused or aggravated by a new imbalance in the population in which the Muslims outnumbered the Christians.

The Christians were the majority once, Serge.  A study of the causes of the war and its course takes a lifetime of investigation.  There were already underlying tensions to begin with and some can argue a keg waiting to be ignited, but what ushered in the war and set off the trigger was the P.L.O.'s activities in Lebanon.

The war continued raging on even after the P.L.O.'s departure.

Lebanon was a gem, the Switzerland of the Middle East.  She is gone forever.

The native currency used to be as strong as the U.S. dollar, I hear.  Now, we work with thousands of lira, and U.S. dollars are used for payment as well.

Old black and white pictures of pre-war Lebanon have a very nostalgic effect.

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