Thursday, 17 October 2013

Challenges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Minority

Wednesday 17th October 2013
Rev'd Archimandrite Nikodemos Anagnostopoulos spoke to the group from his paper on 'The Present Status and the Challenges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Minority of Turkey int eh context of Muslim-Christian relations in Modern Turkey' It was well received and supported by some thought provoking questions and a good discussion. Nikodemos focused on the modern era from October, 1923 (the date of the founding of the Turkish Republic) to the present day.

The issues discussed and referred to during our Meeting were as follows;

The Orthodox community had to adapt to living as part of the majority Christian community in the first centuries A.D., to living within the Ottoman Empire for over 600 years with dimmi status as determined by sharia law and then to 'minority status' within the Turkish Republic.  The population of Christians was reduced by the population exchanges on the founding of the Republic between Greece and Turkey as part of the Treaty of Lausanne. Over a million Christians were forcibly transferred to Greece and over 500,000 Muslims transferred  from Greece to Turkey. The City of Constantinople in Turkey and the Province of Western Thrace in Greece were excluded from this requirement and so the Ecumenical Patriarchate  remained in Constantinople and a Muslim majority is present in Western Thrace in Greece.  Over the years under the Republic, the number of Christians in Constantinople has diminished as discrimination in employment and property rights has made it more difficult to live comfortably and occasional anti Christian riots (e.g. 1955) have destabilized the community. Today there are about 3,000 Christians in Constantinople compared with perhaps 200,000 in 1955. As with Iraq, Syria and Palestine, we are witnessing an continuing exodus of the Christian community from the region and the region is becoming increasingly that of nation states all of one faith which historically has been to its detriment.

Modern Turkey espouses an 'active' secular society rather than a 'passive' secular society which the rest of Europe and the United States encourages. It is active in the sense that state ultimately sanctions and manages the life of the Ecumenical Patriarchate  (EP) in Turkey. The EP is not a legal person under Turkish Law and cannot therefore own property. Christian churches and other buildings have been expropriated by the State ,under a law enacted in 1935, without compensation and are placed under the direct control of a Minority Foundation outside the control of the Patriarchate.  The Ecumenical Patriarch has to be a Turkish citizen and the list of candidates for the election of the Patriarch has to be approved by the State and the State has the right to remove a candidate. Matters came to a head recently which with the diminishing Christian population in Constantinople threatening the continuity of the Patriarchate. An agreement was made with the Turkish Government.The State decided that twelve  heads of the autocephalous orthodox community in Europe and the United States that is in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and recognises the Patriarch as the 'first among equals' within the Orthodox Community should be Turkish citizens and therefore eligible for the list of candidates to be approved by the State. Secularism, in Turkey, requires the faith communities ultimately to be accountable to the State for their organisation and behaviour as a faith community. This can be seen as a stranglehold  on the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the ultimate goal of squeezing the Christian community in its entirety from Turkey. Passive secularism on the other hand accords a much greater degree of freedom of belief, organisation and behaviour of faith communities in the nation state.

The other controlling factor of the Christian Communities is education. Although education and theological training was provided for under the Treaty of Lausanne, the Turkish authorities illegally closed the Theological Academy of Halki in Turkey in 1971 which meant that all Theological training had to be undertaken outside Turkey. The Turkish Government have required Greece to establish a mosque in Athens in order to allow the re-opening of the Halki Theological Academy. This matter is still under discussion today.

Nikodemos says that he has often heard in 'Arab' countries in the Middle East that the Turkish management of other faith communities is a model which might help them in resolving the status of the Christian communities in their situation. The justification for such a claim is difficult to justify in the light of this paper and this discussion.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Seasons of Hope and Trial for the Middle East

Revd Nadim Nassar of the Awareness Foundation spoke to the Theology Group on Thursday 20th June, 2013. His subject was the Arab Spring, the Relgiious Winter and the Summer of Hope. Huda Nassar and Nadim Nassar are by representatives of the Syrian Christian community and their helpful reflections were evidenced from personal experience.

This blog is my personal reaction to the presentations and the discussion that followed and nothing that is written below should be attributed to anyone else other than any criticism of content should come in my direction.  The principle thesis was that the Arab Spring arose because of i.  lack of freedom of expression and of movement, ii. corruption, incompetence and lack of accountabiltity in local and national government, iii. poverty and unemployment particularly among the young and iv. the explosion of communications technology which allows information about comparative freedom, wealth and justice to spread globally. The Religious Winter is prescribed by Religious Fanaticism which does not believe in dialogue nor compromise, considers co-existence to be a weakness and diversity a threat to true religion. Religious Fundamentalism in Islam has its roots in i. globalisation and reaction to western and US dominance in the affairs of mankind, ii. the need to unite Islam, to link alliances and solve problems through unity under Islam shadowing an original impulse in the birth of Islam through the unity of argumentative and hostile nomadic tribes in the Arabian peninsula. The Summer of Hope is a breakthrough beyond the Apring and the Winter into the dawn of a new age which learns to listen to one another, to expect diversity and celebrate it and to respect difference. Our conversation about this analysis related to the Christian community and the Christian message in the midst of this cradle of change and pit of despair. The message of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the suffering servant who is raised from the dead as the resurrected Christ offering humanity the chance of forgiveness through grace and fulfillment through love and compassion and the assuredness of the wholly sufficient presence of the one true God now and forever...this is the summer of Hope fulfilled in our time. The blog is now open for comment and I will contribute to that as I reflect further. Do join in.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Chaldean Catholic Church - Contemporary Issues

Kristian spoke of the history in Iraq of the Chaldean Catholic Church and its progenitor, the Church of the East. Kristian recognises the religious, social and political contributions of the Chaldean Catholic community to Iraqi Society during the 20th Century which are far greater than its minority demographic status might suggest. His paper describes the range of issues which have shaped the contribution of the Chaldean Church;
  • the rise of Assyrian nationalism in the Church of the East and its affects on political stability in the Christian community both in Iraq and Kurdistan.
  • the challenge in an Islamic society to remain safe where association with the West suggests a lack of commitment to Iraqi ideals of pan Arabism and dominance of Islam.
  • the power politics played out between the Sunni Kurdish peoples, the Shia' majority and the Southern Sunni minority of Iraqi particularly with the rise and fall of the Baath party.
  • the drive towards ecumenical relationships between the Roman Catholic and Chaldean Catholic churches and Church of the East in discussion over theology and liturgy as the increasing exodus of Christians from Iraq reduces political influence and ecclesial viability
  • the challenge to Church identities in the contemporary Middle East and the growth and development of  eastern churches in the diaspora in North America and Europe.
Kristian and others also commented on the woeful and damaging ignorance of international church and political leadership of the existence and challenge of the historical and contemporary churches whose origin is in the Middle East and the part that this community does continue to play in the lives of ordinary people.
At our Meeting 20th March 2013

Monday, 4 March 2013

Ethnocide Thursday December 6th 2012


1. There is no reason at all to consider the Jewish Holocaut as a prototype. If there have to be a prototype, it should be the Armenian(together with other Christians of Turkey) before , during and after World War I by Turkey. The reason being that it is the earliest holocaust within living memory that is well documented and as we all know is not popularized for political reasons. This being a good reason to bring it to the forefront by scholars so that more western countries may acknowledge it.

2. I was very interested in bringing to the fore front the concept that intended extermination of a group of people can be executed without mass killings ie genocide. However the term ethnocide is not an adequate one to cover all forms of extermination of certain communities. May be we should speak of ethnic cleansing, religious cleansing, sectarian cleansing...etc.

3. I was disappointed that the Iraqi model was not brought to the fore front, not because I am Iraqi but because it has unfolded in front of our eyes over the last ten years. During these ten years there has been sectarian cleansing, ethnic cleansing and religious cleansing of different communities. The cleansing of the Christian community irrespective of sect has been the most tragic for various reasons. To explain why needs a long discussion and I enclose a paper I presented at Frieburg last year to describe how in different ways the Christians were made to leave the country. As for its being planned and by whom, there is a lot of evidence that Muslim radicals have made it their duty to achieve it. I fear that what is happening in Syria may lead to similar result but I am more hopeful that Egypt will not go the same way.


 The Holocaust or Shoah as prototype: There has been a tendency to insist  that the Jewish Holocaust is unique and to use this supposedly extreme  prototype as a way of blocking any comparison of Israeli Government excesses  in the occupied territories. There are striking similarities in some of the
 actions that the Israeli Government through the IDF have taken in the West their destruction and theft of land and property, their treatment  of children in detention, their treatment of young men in custody (I
 remember the young men of the town being rounded up and branded on their  arms with indelible ink as they arrived at temporary detention centres in  Ramallah in 2001/2 as a minor illustration), in the ongoing dehumanisation of people in most encounters between Palestinians and Israeli organisation. However, to call this genocide on the same level as the Shoah would be a stretch, to my mind.

 Weighing impacts: I would agree that there is little to be achieved by 'weighing' the tragedy of genocide as if it were possible, in some objective way, to determine that genocide 1 is worse than genocide 2. At one level any such weighting would be essentially personal....would be it be ethical, possible , useful, necessary to determine the extent of the impact of genocide on the individual caught up in any such disaster..the picture of
 the naked young woman running away from the inferno behind her on the path between the rice paddies in the Vietnam war..would be enough to deny any value in 'weighting' of such tragedy in comparison to that of e.g. images of individuals in a gas chamber in a Nazi concentration camp....both are horrific examples of humankind's inhumanity to humankind and are equally inexcusable. In what sense does multiplying the number of such incidents increase the 'weight' of such a tragedy. There could be a weighting related to community impact but once you have acknowledged the intention to destroy such a community, what more is there to be it about the size of the community, I dont think so.

 The concept of ethnocide: This has more mileage and could be a way of labelling the deliberate policies of depopulation of a Palestinian Jersualem, the continual squeezing of the Palestinian Arab Israeli from the
 institution of the state of Israel and the squeezing of the livlihoods of Palestinian people in the West Bank as well as the imprisoning of people in Gaza. It is a deliberate policy of depopulation (or welcomed
 emigration...related to constructive dismissal) and it would be very diffcult to deny that. There are many other potential applications of ethnocide rather than applied to for example the killing of all the pigs in Egypt to help constructively dismiss the Christian population.

 The word ethnocide doesn't quite fit though, in my view. It may be too narrow. If ethnicity is about common national and cultural is not wide enough to include religious tradition which is often the subject
 of 'constructive and destructive dismissal' or wide enough to include all examples of physical difference like skin colour or facial features (sometimes associated with race) which can feature in prejudicial action or
 indeed any associated economic advantage or class characteristics which might be important. Religion and culture are, of course, easy bedfellows but they are not the same. Too often, our secular society insists that religion is simply a matter of choice of a set of clothes to be worn or is not normally like that for most people of faith. Difference in belief is not necessarily related to differences in culture
 although they often are.

 Core Personality Traits: I warm to the concept of core personality trait which might highlight the difference...but would have difficulty though in being clear whether religion would be core for everyone..what would you die for? might be an uncomfortable question to ask.....not for every religious person is the answer religion...think of the thousands who convert/have converted from faith A to faith B to reduce societal pressure and enjoy the benefits of the switch...but it is true for some...history is 'seasoned' with the story of many a martyr.

 Causes and Effects: In our discussion, I was not clear when we were talking about reasons for 'ethnocide' and 'genocide' or when were talking about definitions. Whether we were talking about 'cause' or 'effect'...and I am not sure we were clear. Wealth, status and power are often closely related and are as unstable as a cluster as each of these characteristics are in their own right. In other words power is associated with status and wealth...lose one and you are just as likely to lose the others. It seems that minorities that become successful at surviving in communities and acquire these three may get along well with the majority whilst the
 privilege of the these three characteristics is tolerated. If circumstances arise that destabilize one of those three, all become vulnerable. The 'Arab Spring' has been this key instability in the relationship between Muslim majorities and the comparatively better educated, economically successful, status aware Christian communities and perhaps we are now seeing something of the politics of envy.That is a comment on the economic aspect of the victimisation of Christian minorities and it is not deny that any such economic effect could well be wrapped in religious, cultural, national papers.

 Christian responses: Mary's question about Christian response and what now then...are for me questions about attitudes to our own wealth, status and power...can we afford as a western Christian community not to hear the prophetic voice of the 'Arab Spring'. Effective stewardship of our resources must mean some reckoning with the relative poverty of the world around us. We must get our house in order, we must recognise our own need to apologise and to take action that demonstrates our need for forgiveness. We might then have a more effective contribution to make to world peace and have some credibility as we seek reconciliation and compromise with others with whom we differ. i would love to be able to suggest actions 1, 2 and 3...but I am not sure, even if I could, that my heart is ready yet.

What is the point of dialogue? - Thursday 20th September Meeting 2012

Someone needs to say the unsayable, that there is a type of Islam which needs to be seen as inimical. I say this as someone who has been involved with and an admirer of Islamic culture for 45 years +.
I don’t agree with what you say about Sufism and when you have a few hours/days, I’ll tell you why.

 From my point of view what was interesting was not only what colleagues did raise but the various issues with which we did not engage, especially in relation to a theology of change and that through the Holy Spirit God may be present in moving our dialogue into new directions. How do we discern this?

Wanted to say reading what you wrote I feel very similarly and am often disturbed by the generalisations or labels we put on others.

I think this relates to something that Hugh had said at the beginning about the different levels at which dialogue takes place...personal, local, national and indeed international levels and the nature of dialogue as based on theological exchange, friendship, action and sharing religious experience.
I accept that Judaism and Islam maybe best considered as legal systems and you might contrast this with Christianity which is based much more on interpretation of religious experience and personal relationship with God but I feel that this analysis runs the risk of a dangerous generalisation as we approach dialogue. I might be tilting at windmills but I wanted to make it clear for myself that this distinction does not helpfully provide the context for Muslim-Christian dialogue as I have experienced it. The deep conversations that I have had which could best be described as dialogue have been significant for me but few in number...probably I could count them on the fingers of one Britain, the USA and in Palestine. I have many conversations with Muslim where religion has played its part but deep philosophical spiritual conversations have been rare.
I have been aware of an Islam within Sufism that spans Sunni and Shia understandings of Islam and may be considered widespread if you think of the influence of some aspects of Sufism. Certainly I have heard it said that 80% of British Muslims would accept a Sufi label in their approach to God and that Sufi Islam is widely practised and understood particularly in village communities in Palestine. It would be difficult for me to dismiss those that embrace an Inner Teacher and seek a closer more initmate relationship with God as only concerned with outer religion as a legal system.
In fact, my experience of Christianity as practiced in some parts of the United States particularly would lead me to believe that Christianity is as much a legal system as Judaism and Islam is in some circumstances...particularly on the international plane and in relationship to Israel/Palesitne. Christians often present an agenda in what they might term as dialogue or conversation with people of other faiths which is just as constrained and closed as any other...indeed, I acknowledge it can be very difficult to think that one might be mistaken and that one can learn from another's faith tradition. For me to be confident about your own understanding and practice of your faith is not the same as to be closed to new understandings and new richness from which you may learn from another's faith practice and belief. Dialogue is at least also about vulnerability and I think that is as difficult for a Muslim as it is for a Jew or a Christian. The tension between credal statements and personal experience of the Spirit of God is as much a reality for many Christians as it is for any Muslim.
I think that we must be careful not to generalise about another's experience is that the differences are not insignificant (can cause violence, persecution, changes in government etc.) but are more symbolic of power struggle than they are of an intimate and more personal experience of faith. Dialogue is not possible when a struggle for control or domination is at issue. It is rich when a sharing of personal experience of God is enabled where each party is willing to learn from the other...a notion of respect which is becoming increasingly popular as a working goal.