October 25th, 2004


The Patriarch of Baghdad

As I'm making the coffee, the radio is burbling about Iraq. It's not fully sinking in, but the reporter is making comments about some Arabic website forums where people are putting in their 2p about hostage taking. The reporter neglects to let us know where this forum is. Well, more or less everything exists in webworld, so it would be no surprise to find a site in which people were advocating coffee enemas as a viable solution for peace. As far as the reporter lets us know, some posters on the forum are advocating the extermination of Iraqi Christians. Well, I know it would not be hard to find sites on which supposed Christians advocated the extermination of Muslims [This blog looks, ermm...] So what?

The identification of Christians with Western powers is a regrettable one, but it's not entirely mistaken. According to most surveys, Christians make (or is it made?) up around 3% of the Iraqi population. The majority of Christians are Chaldeans, with the remainder made up of various Orthodox, Oriental (Assyrian) and Catholic churches. The Chaldeans, like many Ukrainians in this respect, are Eastern Rite [eh?]. Whilst they maintain the form of Orthodox liturgy and teaching, they recognise the authority of the Pope. Unlike your Greek, Russian and so forth.

Whatever happened to the Patriarch, I wonder to myself? I can find plenty of information about the Chaldean Patriarch, Mgr Emmanuel Delly, who succeeded the previous Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid. But what happened to the non-Roman one? And, from here on in it all gets rather confusing. So there's the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, which is the one I'd take to be the original, and then there's the Chaldean Catholics. As far as I see it, perhaps mistakenly, this wing developed from an internal schism over succession in the 16th century, the Chaldean Catholics siding with Rome, and two separate churches developing. Things seem to have been patched up to some extent recently. The head of the Assyrian Church of the East is His Holiness, Mar Kh'nanya Dinkha IV. I prefer the look of him to His Beatitude Mar Emmanuel III Delly, purely on the knee jerk basis he looks a bit less Roman.

[Okay, so that's not even mentioning the dreaded word Nestorian and if you're wondering who the Syrian Orthodox are, as opposed to the Assyrian, you can sort that out yourself...]

Anyway, what I was wondering about, before I got dragged into that ecumenical minefield, was this identification of Christians with foreign powers. Was this a recent development or had non-Islamic inhabitants always been seen in this way? I understand that both Jews and Christians had always been viewed with suspicion and far worse at a formal level of structure, but I don't know too much about the personal level. How did a Muslim view his Christian neighbour back in the 14th century? Indifference, anger, friendliness...? To what extent were/are these more indigenous expressions of Christianity tolerated over later missionaries or evangelists? Or maybe the difference isn't so apparent after all.

From where I stand, I find it very hard to reconcile my Orthodox faith with how Christianity is popularly expressed in American culture. I can't see the connection anymore. I can see the connection here. It might probably be a romantic view of history, but I don't see Christianity as being a religion solely of picket fences, although I have a soft spot for Plain-types like the Mennonites, Amish and similar . The current political situation, it seems, is only going to threaten the existence of the Church in its places of origin. Or will it? I'm just wondering...

I've no idea. I just know that I'm very uncomfortable with being manipulated [that word again] into the position of siding with the current US policy upon the basis of America somehow being the defender of the faith. Maybe if you're not Christian, this doesn't bother you much. When my faith is so enriched by the lives and works of so many who came from these countries that the eagle casts its eye towards. But a church exists and, rightly, soldiers stand before it and try to offer some protection. And bombs go off. And I wake up most days, trying to unfuzz my head with espresso, wondering just badly you can mismanage a situation before you're relieved of office. I just see a bunch of people doing those stupid football victory dances that involve swinging one's butt around like a monkey and shouting Bring it on. And I despair, because I don't even have the option of defecting to the Soviet Union or establishing a moon station or any other of those fantasy get-out clauses that were around in my youth. I'm stuck here within a history that is breaking my heart, but more importantly, breaking the lives of millions.

And why does nobody ever mention the Yezidis? What's happening there?

Such is the clarity of thought this Monday.