Tuesday 27 December, 2011
The landscape of the Middle East has been changing significantly, and in the midst of revolutions, uprisings, terrorist attacks and general social unrest, there is a small but significant group of individuals trying to live an increasingly difficult situation.
It is often forgotten that Christianity actually started in those lands that are now overtaken by conflict. Whether following the Western calendar celebrating Christmas on 25 December or, as we do in the Coptic Orthodox Church, following the Julian calendar celebrating it on 7 January, Christians in the Middle East are experiencing this year’s Nativity Feast in an uncertain and volatile climate. The place that was to be the springboard to “peace on earth and goodwill towards men”, as proclaimed by the angels at the birth of Christ, has unfortunately become a fertile ground for conflict and fragmentation.
On 9 December of this year, a House of Lords debate on Christians in the Middle East gave an inspiring and encouraging message of overwhelming consensus that Christianity was an essential and integral part of the Middle East, and that the decreasing presence of Christians and Christian communities is a sad loss for that region, and indeed for the whole world.
Focusing on Egypt, home to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East, and an indigenous Church since the first Century, we see an increasingly uncertain time ahead, not only for Christians, but for the whole nation. Egypt is now living a state of unprecedented political freedom, which has ironically lead to greater instability and the appearance of radical and conflicting political and religious ideologies.
While this may indeed be a healthy sign in more democratically-developed nations, in a country like Egypt, currently economically devastated, with a vulnerable electorate hampered by extreme poverty and illiteracy, this creates an uneasy climate and gives rise to the potential manipulation of that electorate.
Having said that, we have not in the past, and do not intend now, to live with the spirit of defeat or self-pity. The Christian message is one of power and hope; overcoming evil with good, and uncertainty with the knowledge of, and trust in, a true and faithful God.
As we all celebrate these festive days, let us remember our brethren in the Middle East, hoping that all has not been in vain, but actually leads to a greater understanding and practice of true democracy and respect for the rights of every individual.
We must also remember that for many millions of Christians in the Middle East, along with their brethren in Nigeria who on Christmas Day experienced such tragedy at what should have been a time of sacred celebration, these days commemorate the birth of the Incarnate Word, Who is still the source of the hope, courage and resilience with which they live till today.