I am reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s new “History of Christianity” at the moment (see here for a review of the book by none other than the Bearded One himself, the Archbishop of Canterbury). One of the significant features of the book is that, like any global history written since September 2001, there is much more attention given to the the situation of the Church in the Middle to Far East (in this case, to the non-Chalcedonian “miaphysite” – aka monophysite – and “diaphysite” – aka Nestorian – Churches) than in many other one volume histories of Christianity written in the past. (As an example, my neighbour showed me an old but fairly good single volume history of civilisation the other day. It gave almost 70 pages to the Roman civilization, and only 6 pages to the Eastern Islamic civilisations). MacCulloch comments at the end of his sixty page summary (out of a total of 1150 pages in all – the hardcover version of the book is a BRICK!):
Western Christianity, heir to Chalcedon, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, still has a long way to go before the balance is fully righted.
He is probably right there. Certainly the tales of persecution and martyrdom in the East, under the Sassinids and the Mongols and the Chinese as well as the Muslims (who actually were rather mild overlords in comparison to some of these others) are often much worse than those perpetrated by the Roman Emperors before Constantine. In many localities these Churches were completely extinguished by these persecutions. And yet, in many others, they have held on through thick and thin.
One of those “survivors” is the Coptic Church of Egypt. In today’s Age is a story which shows these persecutions – not “official” by their Governments but still very real and often ignored by the authorities in Egypt – are still very much continuing. Australia is home to many Coptic Christians (70,000 according to the paper – Melbourne has a particularly strong and evangelical community of Copts, under the leadership of their Bishop Suriel), many of them refugees from just such persecution.
This is a case for prayer. And also action. Those in Melbourne might like to join the Copts in their planned march on the Egyptian consulate tomorrow to demand that the Australian Government take some action in this matter.
It should also be noted that the relationships between these Eastern non-Chalcedonian Christians and Catholic Church is good and continuing to improve. Theological studies and ecumenical efforts are now healing the 1500 year old breach that occured at the fourth ecumenical council (it was all a terrible misunderstanding, apparently!), and we hope that full communion may be seen in our lifetime.