Christians of the Orient, 2,000 years of history

Christians of the Orient, 2,000 years of history

By Fr. Rif’at Bader

L'Oeuvre d'Orient, a Paris-based Institute of the Arab World, has organized an exhibition that will last until January 2018, titled, the ''Chrétiens d'Orient: Deux mille ans d'histoire'' (Eastern Christians: Two Thousand Years of History). The exhibition was opened by French President Emmanuel Macron in the presence of Lebanese President Michel Aoun as well as a number of religious and civil figures from France and the Orient.

The exhibition includes antiquities from Middle Eastern countries, namely Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the Holy Land. We hoped that the official announcement of the exhibition would include the name “Palestine’’, despite the fact that the term “the Holy Land” is noble and invaluable. Using the name "Palestine" has numerous values, the most important of which is respect for the history of the past, and support for the Palestinian people’s endeavor to gain independence.

The Christians of the Orient view an exhibition addressing them in the West as an opportunity to remind the world of the historical value and influential role of this part of the globe. What are being exhibited in Paris are antiquities from the first centuries, which is an indication of the Christians of the Orient and their twin history with Christian history. Here, the messages of Heaven emerged and monotheistic religions came to the fore. Christian religion emerged from this region and spread worldwide. The Christians who still live in this Orient are not new guests, but are the indigenous people of this area.

The exhibition is also an opportunity to focus on the values of “common living” which characterized the Orient. The Jewish religion (with disregard to political issues) emerged here and was later followed by Christianity and Islam. This is history. It is always mentioned that the brotherhood between the religions themselves among the followers and the believers in these religions is factual. This could be a message addressed to the West that has recently suffered from the issue of refugees and their inability to integrate with other peoples.

The exhibition, organized by renowned cultural institution Paris-based Institute of the Arab world, aims at drawing attention to the suffering of the Christians of the Orient and the heavy Cross they have been carrying as many of them have recently been forced to leave their homes without being able to pack their belongings. This is what happened to the Christians of Mosul as well as to other cities and village in the Nineveh Plain, as an example.

After the world awakes from sleep nowadays, the question that arises is where are the Christians of Mosul? Will they return? They are in Australia, the United States and other distant countries. Those who remained in Irbil, Kurdistan, have been screaming that they will not be the fuel for new conflagrations, in reference to the Kurdish referendum and the issuance of some statements that made on behalf of Christians.

From a Jordanian point of view, the Jordanian government announced a few months ago its approval of lending some unique historical pieces of its heritage to the exhibition for all its duration. The opening ceremony was attended by Minister of Culture Dr. Nabil Shuqum. On the eve marking the opening of the exhibition, French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti held a meeting at his residence in the presence of a delegation of French journalist delegation during which he spoke about the exhibition and its noble objectives. Our ambassador to Paris Makram Al-Qaisi told us that on the eve of the opening of the exhibition, he organized a tour by a number of ambassadors and their families to in the exhibition so as to get acquainted with the Jordanian exhibits which date back to the 6th century. It was an occasion for the ambassador, known for his role the in promotion of tourism to our country, to talk about the historic role of Jordan’s King, government and people in preserving the Arab Christian identity.

In short, the exhibition is a good initiative and a commendable cultural effort by the Institute of the Arab World to expose Christian antiquities in the City of Lights, Paris. Nevertheless, what is more important is to shed light on the life of the Christians of today in the Orient, which is an integral part of the history of their region’s present and future, and to highlight their life and institutions, as well as to ascertain that the most beautiful treasures of the Orient is its pluralism and that the brilliance of its children lies in the amount of their contribution to the service of their communities that aspire to the days of prosperity.

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