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Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.pravmir.com/present-and-future-of-christians-in-the-middle-east/ Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East Apr 8th, 2013 On Saturday,
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      Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East
      Apr 8th, 2013

      On Saturday, March 30, 2013, the Volos Academy for Theological Studies
      successfully concluded its roundtable discussion entitled *"The Present
      and Future of Christians in the Middle East in Light of the Recent
      Developments in the Arab World."* The event, which was held at the
      "Thessalia" Conference Center in Melissatika, Volos, was part of the
      Academy's broader program of events for the current academic year,
      entitled "Theology in Dialogue."

      The speakers (who came from countries or Christian communities of the
      Middle East) presented timely perspectives on the ongoing discussion not
      only about the difficulties facing Christians' very survival, but also
      the new challenges posed by the so-called "Arab Spring."

      The roundtable began with introductory remarks by the Director of the
      Academy for Theological Studies, *Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis*, who
      moderated the event. Dr. Kalaitzidis began by noting the Volos Academy's
      enduring interest in the question of the presence of Christian in the
      Middle East, highlighting the Academy's previous events on the topic,
      especially the major international conference in Volos, organized in
      conjunction with the World Council on Churches, in June 2011.

      The first speaker, *Bishop Elia (Toumeh) of Marmarita (Patriarchate of
      Antioch, Syria),* described the dramatic consequences of the ongoing
      civil war in Syria, which has already last two years, for both
      Christians and Muslims, while focusing particularly on the difficulties,
      dangers, and painful dilemmas faced by Christians in Syria. As His Grace
      emphasized in his remarks, Christian religious leaders are called to
      correctly interpret the signs of the times, so that, with the help of
      prayer, they are able to understand coming events. The Orthodox Church,
      after the difficulties pass, must be able to participate in the new
      Syrian society that will emerge. That is why all Christians must play a
      constructive role in the reconciliation of opposing factions. Everyone,
      he noted, Christians and Muslims alike, fear fanatical Islam, and this
      is why Islam must demonstrate its respect for minorities and present its
      plan for the future governance of Syria, providing a positive and
      peaceful solution to the people demonstrating on the streets.
      Christians' role is to remind Muslims that they should not behave with
      the arrogance of the majority, but according to the logic of patriotism,
      in which all are equal citizens.

      Next, *Dr. Hanna Grace*, Coptic Christian and Member of the Egyptian
      Parliament, gave a historical overview of the position of Christians in
      Egypt during both the Ottoman period and the most recent periods of
      governance by Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, eventually focusing his
      attention on the treatment of Christians today by the Islamic government
      authorities in Egypt. Based on the latest developments and the results
      of the recent referendum, Dr. Grace expressed his belief that the
      Islamists will ultimately fail to hold onto power in Egypt, due to the
      growing frustration with their governance, as well as to the more
      democratic and liberal bloc of voters, as well as the Copts, especially
      of the younger generation, who increasingly support the secular,
      non-religious parties and movements with a view to building a
      pluralistic and democratic Egypt that respects human rights and
      religious freedoms.

      *Dr. Antoine Courban*, Professor at the Saint-Joseph University of
      Beirut, and an Orthodox intellectual from Lebanon, then spoke about the
      hopeful signs that have come out of the upheavals in the Arab world. The
      speakers stressed that the core of the message that has sent people
      rushing into the streets is freedom and democracy, dignity and respect
      for the human person. He also argued that, as Christians, we must
      recognize Christ himself in the face of every victim of the uprising,
      regardless of religion or confession. With the revolt, Arabs---both
      Christians and Muslims---are attempting, albeit very late, to enter into
      modernity and defend the values of freedom, human dignity, tolerance,
      diversity, and peaceful coexistence, values that are quintessentially
      Christian.

      The final speaker was *Fr. Georges Massouh*, Director of the Center for
      Christian-Muslims Studies at the University of Balamand in Lebanon,
      who---without neglecting the risk posed by extreme Islamic
      fundamentalist movements to Christians but also more broadly to all
      citizens---maintained that the uprisings and revolutions taking place in
      the Middle East also contain many promising signs, first and foremost
      being the people's thirst for political and religious freedom,
      democracy, egalitarianism, solidarity, and tolerance of difference. He
      argued, however, that only a secular---and not religious or
      theocratic---government can provide a guarantee for the above, while
      recalling that Christians in the Middle East have always been in favor
      of secular brand of government and law which bridges the religious divides.

      These presentations were followed by a fruitful dialogue and exchange of
      views with the attendees, and the event concluded with remarks by *His
      Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias*, who thanked the speakers
      for their participation and extremely enlightening suggestions, while
      also noting the Metropolis of Demetrias' enduring interest in and
      support for Christians of the Middle East. He also recalled the
      important ecclesiastical, theological, and pastoral work carried out
      within the Patriarchate of Antioch and the fruitful exchanges between
      Orthodox from Greece and the Orthodox Youth Movement (MJO) in Syria and
      Lebanon.

      *Source: Acadimia <http://www.acadimia.gr/content/view/470/1/lang,en/>*




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