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Christians in the Muslim World

The Church of the East: Two Thousand Years of Martyrdom and Mission

Currently targeted by ISIS’s militias, the Christian presence in Iraq goes back to the time of the apostles. Over the centuries, it has demonstrated an extraordinary perseverance in the faith and proclaimed the Gospel to the farthest reaches of Asia. From the fifteenth century onwards, its various branches have alternatingly established ties with Rome before reaching the current tripartition into the Chaldean Church, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East. A division that, if not healed, risks turning into a slow death.

The words of the prophet Isaiah, “Without beauty, without majesty, no looks to attract our eyes” (Is 53:2) might perhaps, without any exaggeration, be applied to the Church of the East today. And yet, if one only lifts the veil imposed by the news reports, how beautiful her disfigured face appears. Currently targeted in Northern Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State’s militias, this Church in the Land of the Two Rivers today maintains a Christian presence that goes back to the time of the apostles. Having grown autonomously, in relative isolation, amidst persecution right from the beginning, she experienced an unrivalled missionary élan that took her as far as distant China during the Middle Ages. She has never, in all her history, been a national Church in the exclusivist sense, having united peoples and nations from Upper Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf, from India to China. Wanting to transform her, today, from a Sacrament for the world into the instrument of a self-absorbed nationalism, as some are demanding, would mean mummifying her: indeed, the Church transcends the boundaries of ethnic groups, languages and nationalities because Christianity is a proclamation of life that takes flesh in every civilization.

 

 

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