Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Many news reports have described how Christians in Mosul (also known as Nineveh) are desperately fleeing their homes as the region is overtaken by the militant group ISIS. At the Orthodox Christian Network, we covered the crisis in our most recent online newscast, “The Christian Crisis in Iraq.”
A recent article by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, describes the magnitude of this religious and humanitarian crisis by placing it into historical context. He writes:
So much has been widely reported, but what has been missing in media accounts is just how crucially significant Mosul is to the whole Christian story over two milennia. Although the destruction of Christian Mosul has been drawn out over many years, the imminent end is still shocking. The best way to describe its implications is to imagine the annihilation of some great European center of the faith, such as Assisi, Cologne, or York. Once upon a time, Mosul was the heart of a landscape that was no less thoroughly Christ-haunted.
Mosul itself was a truly ancient Assyrian center, which continued to flourish through the Middle Ages. No later than the second century AD, the city had a Christian presence. This was a vital base for the Church of the East, the so-called Nestorian Church, which made it a metropolitan see. Also present were the so-called Monophysites, today’s Syrian Orthodox Church. These churches used Syriac, a language close to that of the apostles, and Syriac-speaking villages still survive in the Mosul area.
Mosul stood at the center of a network of monasteries, some of which were among the first and most influential in the whole monastic movement. Within thirty miles of the city, we find St. Elijah’s and St. Matthew (Mar Mattai) from the fourth century, Rabban Hormizd and Beth `Abhe from the sixth or seventh, and there are many others: Mar Bihnam, Mar Gewargis (St. George), Mar Mikhael (St. Michael). As in Western Europe, such houses were crucial to the vast tradition of Christian faith and learning, and the greatest yielded nothing to such legendary houses as Monte Cassino or Iona. At its height, Mar Mattai was one of the greatest houses in the Christian world, with thousands of monks.
Now, with almost all Christians fleeing Mosul and the surrounding region, this once-great center of Christian faith and learning may become little more than a memory.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.