MIDDLE EASTERN CHRISTIANITY

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MIDDLEEASTERN CHRISTIANITY

MIDDLEEASTERN CHRISTIANITY

Accordingto historians, Abraham was the first Jew to make a covenant with God.Chronicles of his life are different, but they all have one commonstoryline Abraham was called by God to take his family from the Cityof Ur, in Mesopotamia, to a region on the eastern side of theMediterranean Sea between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Presently, the landwhere Abraham and his descendants settled includes all or parts ofstates like Jordan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Yemen, Iraq,Iran, and huge chunks of Egypt1.Eventually, the monotheistic Abrahamic faith practiced in all theseregions fragmented into three of the world’s main Abrahamic faithsChristianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Thezones Abraham settled are holy in all the Abrahamic faiths becauseall the prophets mentioned in the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Torahsupposedly lived in this region. Unfortunately, this shared originhas also been a source of conflict, bringing about contradictorybeliefs across the Abrahamic faiths2.Even so, this paper will focus on only two of the three Abrahamicfaiths Christianity and Islam. Precisely, this paper will shed lighton the similarities and differences in the Middle EasternChristianity and Western Christianity. Before comparing andcontrasting these two realms of the Abrahamic faith, this paper willfirst of all discuss the evolution of Christianity in the Middle Eastas the second of the three Abrahamic faiths and how it has shaped orinfluenced Islam.

THEEVOLUTION OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Christianityis the world’s largest religion with more than 2.4 billionbelievers, closely followed by Islam with more than 1.7 billionadherents. So where exactly did Christianity originate from?Christianity originated in the first century with a Jewish prophetand teacher a man who many of his followers came to regard as theSon of God. The man was Jesus of Nazareth3. Jesus of Nazareth urged an ethical and moral code centered onhumility, love, and charity. In addition to this, the Son of God alsourged the Jews to abandon earthly desires and follow His lessons inpreparation for a “final judgment day” that was looming in thehorizon.

Incidentally,Jesus was telling the Jews that God would come back and reward thevirtuous with perpetual life and condemn transgressors to everlastinghell. Nevertheless, the penetration of the “new” faith among theJews did not please the leaders of the Jewish faith as well asdifferent upper class social orders. Jesus Christ was considered anaggressive agitator by the Jewish authority because the religiousmessages he delivered to his followers caused spiritual unrest. Thatis why at around 30 A.D., the Son of God was put to death. AfterJesus’ demise, the duty of propagating the doctrines ofChristianity was taken over by Paul of Tarsus, Saint Peter, and theother disciples4.

Generally,Christianity originated from the city of Jerusalem, from where itspread in all directions. Beginning in the first century B.C., theearliest Christian church centers were Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria.There was not much activity in the spread of Christianity until the4thand 5thcenturies where the first major splits in Christianity wereprovoked5.There were disagreements regarding how Jesus Christ should beconsidered both as divine and human. The rulings made by tworeligious councils widened the rift between Christians in the MiddleEast, which eventually led to the formation of two-sided Christianchurches: the Church of the East and the Oriental Orthodox Church6.However, the spread of Christianity in the Middle East was sloweddown between the 7thand 13thcentury following the invasion of the region by Arab and Musliminhabitants. Towards the end of the eleventh century, the Crusadesbrought the Roman Catholic Church into the Middle East. Initially,the domination of the Roman Catholic Church was static because thecrusaders that had brought this faction of religion did not stay forlong in the region7.

Bythe 18thcentury, some of the Eastern churches had entered into communion withthe Roman Catholic Church. Those that entered into this agreementwere referred to as Greek Catholics. The 19thcentury saw the arrival of Western Churches in the Middle East.Organizations like the American Presbyterian missionaries spread thegospel in different Middle Eastern nations like Lebanon, Iraq, andIran8.The Lutheran Church and the Church of England also set up Christiancenters in Jerusalem during the 19thcentury, converting many Jews to Christianity. The conversion processhas been going on since the inception of Christianity in the MiddleEast.

However,the number of followers of Christianity has been dwindling lately.Bearing in mind that the Middle East is an Islamic State, theinvasion of Iraq by the United States was considered a religiousattack on Islam as a religion9.The United States, being mostly a pro-Christian nation, invaded Iraqwith the pretext of searching for weapons of mass destruction thatwere never found. Therefore, the Muslim in the Middle East feltaggravated by the “Christian” invasion of the United States. Inretaliation, the Islam coordinated attacks against the United Statesand any other Christian nation that seemed to be aligned to theUnited States10.From this perspective, Christianity had a negative effect on Islam.The subsequent section of this paper compares and contrasts Easternand Western Christianity.

ANALYSISOF EAST AND WEST CHRISTIANITY

Thedivision of the church between the West and the East is deeply rootedin the history of Christianity itself. Possibly, initial signs ofinconsistencies emanate from the historical fact that the WesternChurch communicated in Latin, whereas the Eastern Church spoke andwrote in Greek. Nevertheless, the first noteworthy difference betweenthe Middle Eastern and Western Christianity is that each religiousfaction has its own distinct approach to the idea of theology. Underthe guidance of Apostle Paul, Christians in the West developed atheological framework fixed on the relationship between man and God.

TheWestern creeds of theology emphasize that the relationship betweenman and God is a three-tier paradigm creation, fall (transgressionof God’s law), and redemption (salvation)11.Also known as a cataphaticapproach to theology, Christians in the West firmly hold onto theconception that salvation cannot be merited but is time-honored byvirtuous deeds and unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. Consistent withWestern Christianity doctrines, Jesus Christ died on the cross inplace of mankind. He took a “death penalty” on behalf of mankindso that his virtuousness could be legally conveyed to them. From thispoint of perspective, Western Christians believe that someone has tobe punished for going against God’s will in order to achieve divinejustice.

Onthe contrary, the Christians in the Middle East take an apophaticapproach to the concept of theology. An apophatictheological approach, also known as negative theology, is a type oftheological school of thinking that believes on the premise that inhis essence, God is indecipherable12.In accordance to the doctrines of the Christians in the East, it isunrealistic and impossible for human beings to make cataphaticstatements about their relationship with an infinite creator whomthey have never seen. In this regard, the Christians in the East holdonto the notion that God cannot be known in His true essence, but canonly be “felt” and “encountered” through His positiveenergies. This implies that to Eastern Christianity, God is not onlyinconceivable but imperceptible13.

Forthat reason, Christians in the East believe in theosis,which is a transformative procedure whose ultimate goal is anamalgamation with or resemblance to God. Theosisis brought about by illumination with the vision of God (theoria)and purification of the body and mind (catharsis)14.In other words, a Christian in the Middle East with advancedChristian familiarity is not the ultimate theologian but rather theone who prays and acts virtuously. The journey of theosisfor a Middle Eastern Christian is directly proportional to his or herability to “experience” theology, which is a meeting with God.The Middle East views incarnation as the principal event in theprocess of theosis,which explains why the Eastern doctrines of Christianity emphasizethat the relationship between man and God is a two-tier paradigmcreation-deification15.

Thesecond difference between Eastern and Western Christianity lies inthe doctrine of creation. All the doctrines of Western Christianityare embedded in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, the first sixchapters are dedicated to the famous creation narrative. In thesechapters, it is clearly indicated that the universe and everything init are a creation of a supernatural creator God. The Bible documentsthat God created the earth in six days, after which he rested on theseventh16.Hence, Western Christians believe that the universe is God’screation as documented in the Biblical book of Genesis. Quite theopposite, Christians in the Middle East believe in creation fromnothing at all (creatioex nihilo).According to Middle Eastern Christians, God has existence only inHimself and everything else has existence only through Him17.From this perspective, the universe and everything in it came intoexistence as a result of the merciful and loving nature of God.

Thegreatest issue that fuels this Eastern school of thought is theabsence of a doctrine that highlights the association between God andhis creations. In this regard, Middle Eastern Christians mark adistinction between the natureof God and the willof God. According to them, creation is an act of God’s will.God might have created His Son, but He is not a mere creation for thereason that He shares exactly the same naturewith his Father18.To Orthodox (Middle Eastern) Christians, the universe exists by thegrace of God. God, in His loving nature, does not simply createthings He gives them their own energy or movement. The propermovement of creatures, according to Middle Eastern Christianity, isproper only if it moves consistent with fulfilling the divine purposefor their existence which is entering into communion with God. Sincecreatures exist because of the God’s willand grace, then they may cease to exist if God so wishes19.Thus, to Christians in the Middle East, creatures are not merecreations of a supreme being because they share the natureof the Father. He has not created them but has given them energy oftheir own, recurrently moving towards Him so as to be part and parcelof God’s uncreated energies.

Thethird difference between Eastern and Western Christianity lies intheir contradictory perceptions regarding death. Generally, theteachings of the doctrines of the Christians in the West decree thatmankind inherits some form of “originalsin”from Adam and Eve20.Additionally, the teachings of Western Christianity hold that a manwill go to hell because of these original sins if one does not repentand receive salvation. From this viewpoint, Western Christiansbelieve that death is a form of punishment inflicted directly onmankind because of transgressions and hell is home to those underGod’s punishment.

However,some Protestants disagree with this notion by arguing that death is anatural process. Either way, according to the Western Christians, Godis the source of spiritual life and so is He the source of spiritualdeath for mankind. Apparently, Christians in the Middle East disagreewith the Western notion of death21.According to Eastern Christians, death is an estrangement from God asthe main source of life. From this perspective, Eastern Christiansargue that God is a sign and source of life. Thus, death is evilbecause it comes to interfere with the positive energies bestowed increatures by God.

Thefilioquecontroversy is another difference between Eastern and WesternChristianity. The filioqueissue is centered on the sensitive question of the sender of the HolySpirit to earth. In the 5thcentury, Augustine the theologian strongly argued that the HolySpirit was sent to earth by both the Father and the Son22.In a 589 Western council that met in Spain, Western Christians addedto the 381 Nicene doctrines the account that the Holy Spirit was sentto earth by both the Father and His Son. However, Middle EasternChristians strongly dispute this idea for the same reason that theydo not believe that a finite creature can comprehend the nature ofGod’s energies. Another outstanding controversy that separates Eastand West Christianity is the dating of Easter.

AsChristianity was unveiling in the first century, Christians in theEast celebrated Easter on whichever day of the Passover. TheChristians in the West strictly celebrated Easter on a Sunday on theweek of the Passover. The divergence was made greater by thecondemnation of the Eastern practice of celebrating Easter in the 352Council of Nicea23.The outcome was that Eastern and Western Christians celebrated Easteron different Sundays. Trying to bring a solution, a monk by the nameExiguus Dionysius worked out a formula throughout the 6thcentury for numbering years. He created the A.D.-B.C. system ofdating which was readily accepted by Christians in the West.Nonetheless, Christians in the East did not adapt to this system ofdating. For that reason, Christians in the East normally celebrateEaster on the first Sunday after the full moon following thePassover. This explains why the Middle East celebrates Easter a weeklater after Christians in the West.

Inas much as there are a myriad of differences in the practice ofChristianity between the East and the West, there are some strikingsimilarities as well. As initially illustrated, all the three majorreligions of the world share one common ancestor Abraham. Inconsideration of this fact, Christianity in the East and the West issimilar for the reason that Christians in the East and theircounterparts in the West pledge allegiance to the same spiritualancestor. Secondly, Christianity in the East and the West is similarbecause Christians in both regions believe in the existence of asupreme being24.

AlthoughChristians in the East engage in negative theology, they do recognizethe existence of a supreme being whom they negatively talk about.Similarly, Christians in the Middle East and the West believe in theexistence of God. The third similarity stems from the moral andethical values propagated by the teachings in both Middle Eastern andWestern Christianity25.As discussed earlier, Christianity teachings in the East and the Westlay emphasis on the development of virtues so as to maintain ahealthy and positive relationship with God. Therefore, Eastern andWestern Christianity share similarity on the basis of moral andethical teachings in pursuance of some form of virtuous living thatwill be rewarded by God in the form of eternal life.

Conclusion

Christianityis the world’s largest religion with more than 2.4 billionbelievers, closely followed by Islam with more than 1.7 billionadherents. Christianity originated in the first century with a Jewishprophet and teacher a man who many of his followers came to regardas the Son of God. The man was Jesus of Nazareth. Being the initiatorof Christianity in the Middle East, Jesus Christ managed to handpicktwelve men who helped him spread Christianity in preparation for theestablishment of His Father’s Kingdom on earth. The Jewish leaders,considering his actions invasive, ordered the execution of Jesus ofNazareth after which he was crucified. Even in his absence,Christianity spread to zones far beyond the Middle East and NorthAfrica. After the crusades, The Roman Catholic Church set foot intothe Middle East, stirring changes in the spiritual landscape of theregion. Due to the influence of Western Catholics and Islam,Christianity in the Middle East underwent an extreme metamorphosis tothe level of carving out completely different practices from WesternChristianity. Presently, there are more differences than similaritiesin Christianity practiced in the East and the West. Despite bearingmore differences than similarities, both factions of Christianity areproactively involved in preparing their followers for the muchanticipated second coming of God.

Bibliography

Abbott,L. (2009). TheEvolution of Christianity.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Avakian,S. (2015). Christianity and Secularisation in the West and the MiddleEast: A Theological Stance. Journalof Religious History,p.n/a-n/a.

Churchward,A. (2014). Originand Evolution of Religion.Florence: Taylor and Francis.

Hageman,A. (2013). Book Review: Derrida, Africa, and the Middle East.Christianity&amp Literature,63(1), pp.153-156.

Jenkins,P. (2008). Thelost history of Christianity.New York: HarperOne.

Karounos,M. (2012). An Old Testament Offering: The Origin of Frost`s&quotMaple&quot. Christianity&amp Literature,61(2), pp.265-280.

Malak,A. (2010). Mediating Christianity and Islam. CrossCurrents,60(4), pp.572-576.

Mix,L. and Masel, J. (2014). Chance, Purpose, and Progress inEvolution and Christianity. Evolution,p.n/a-n/a.

Westermeyer,P. (2013). Music and Spirituality: Reflections from a WesternChristian Perspective. Religions,4(4), pp.567-583.

1 Churchward, A. (2014). Origin and Evolution of Religion. Florence: Taylor and Francis.

2 Ibid

3 Abbott, L. (2009). The Evolution of Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

4 Jenkins, P. (2008). The lost history of Christianity. New York: HarperOne.

5 ibid

6 Hageman, A. (2013). Book Review: Derrida, Africa, and the Middle East. Christianity &amp Literature, 63(1), pp.153-156.

7 Mix, L. and Masel, J. (2014). Chance, Purpose, and Progress in Evolution and Christianity. Evolution, p.n/a-n/a

8 Jenkins, P. (2008). The lost history of Christianity. New York: HarperOne.

9 Abbot (2009).

10 Hageman, A. (2013). Book Review: Derrida, Africa, and the Middle East. Christianity &amp Literature, 63(1), pp.153-156.

11 Westermeyer, P. (2013). Music and Spirituality: Reflections from a Western Christian Perspective. Religions, 4(4), pp.567-583.

12 Ibid

13 Malak, A. (2010). Mediating Christianity and Islam. CrossCurrents, 60(4), pp.572-576.

14 Ibid

15 Karounos, M. (2012). An Old Testament Offering: The Origin of Frost`s &quotMaple&quot. Christianity &amp Literature, 61(2), pp.265-280.

16 Jenkins, P. (2008). The lost history of Christianity. New York: HarperOne.

17 Abbot (2013)

18 Churchward, A. (2014). Origin and Evolution of Religion. Florence: Taylor and Francis.

19 Karounos, M. (2012). An Old Testament Offering: The Origin of Frost`s &quotMaple&quot. Christianity &amp Literature, 61(2), pp.265-280.

20 Avakian, S. (2015). Christianity and Secularisation in the West and the Middle East: A Theological Stance. Journal of Religious History, p.n/a-n/a.

21 Mix, L. and Masel, J. (2014). Chance, Purpose, and Progress in Evolution and Christianity. Evolution, p.n/a-n/a.

22 Malak, A. (2010). Mediating Christianity and Islam. CrossCurrents, 60(4), pp.572-576.

23 Ibid

24 Malak, A. (2010). Mediating Christianity and Islam. CrossCurrents, 60(4), pp.572-576.

25 Westermeyer, P. (2013). Music and Spirituality: Reflections from a Western Christian Perspective. Religions, 4(4), pp.567-583.