Modern Christianity in Jordan and Palestine, by Kildani
September 4, 2007
(Posted on September 4, 2007)
Kildani writes a useful book about modern Christianity in Jordan and Palestine. He divides his book into four main sections that address the last two hundred years: (1) the Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, (2) the Jerusalem Latin Patriarchate, (3) the Anglican Bishopric, and (4) non-Chalcedonian churches as well as the catholic oriental churches.
The first part highlights the tensions between the different ethnic groups within the Orthodox Church. Greeks had several tensions with Russians as well as with Arabs. Kildani rightly points out the paternalistic dominance of the Greeks and the resistance of Arab Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox members are sympathetic to their Arab brethren. They defended them before the Greeks. The following story that is taken from Kildaniís book (pp. 39-40) clarifies his approach as well as the relationship between Russians, Arabs, and Greeks.
The Greek orthodox bishop (from now on GOB) said to his Russian conversant (from now on RC): you donít love us and as a result you side with the Arabs.
To read the dialouge in Arabic, press this comb.jpg
RC: God knows how much we love you, but we also have compassion on the Arabs. And we are willing to defend them before the whole world.
GOB: The Arabs donít have faith because they are barbarians and evil.
RC: If this is true, then, why donít you teach them the tenants of faith? Why donít you turn them into meek sheep? Arenít you their shepherds?
GOB: They donít listen to us.
RC: Of course they will not listen because you donít love them. Instead, you despise them. They are oppressed and martyred from everyone. What comfort will they find when they come to you? They donít have a place for prayer because the churches at their villages are unfit.
GOB: Arenít you mindful that we are living under the Turks?
RC: But the Turks donít prevent you from renovating their churches. On the contrary, they allow you not only to renovate but also to build new churches on the foundations of the old ones. Further, the Turks donít interfere at all if you want to make the churches decorated with beautiful icons. Although you have the opportunity to work, your churches in the villages are without icons or clothes or Ö
GOB: Even though we donít have artists or the resources, we give every priest clothes, a tray, and a cup; but they donít take good care of it.
RC: (He wanted to answer GOB saying that the clothes that the Arab priests receive are old and used. The Arab priests will receive these clothes only once in their whole life-time. Further, instead of giving the priests weak wooden ecclesiastical utensils they should give them metal utensil. But RC did not share this and kept silent in order to talk about the moral side of the priests) Ė Your priests donít know their duties so they perform the sacraments without godliness and put their cattle in the churches. Instead of teaching them and guiding them, you expel them as if they are lowly slaves. And when they knock at your doors saying: ďhelp us for the sake of the prayers of the holy fathers,Ē you answer them: ďgo away from here; O you donkeys! Just leave.Ē
GOB: We donít allow Arab priests to confront us because there is a hierarchical order in the priesthood. And the translator informs us of their requests.
RC: (This is the first time that I hear that meeting the priests disturbs the hierarchical order of the priesthood) Ė O master what are you saying? Every bishop is like a guitar in which the priests are its strings. This is not my opinion but it is what St. Agnatius says. He is the one who found his protection in God. So now consider the great relationship between the bishops and the priests according to the teachings of the Fathers of the church.
GOB: But we donít understand the language of the Arabs.
RC: Why donít you learn it? For not knowing the language of your flock causes Arabs to not love you. But let us suppose that you are too old to learn the local tongue, let the translator inform you of the requests of the priests in their presence.
GOB: O! We cannot now start new traditions.
RC: Then things will never change. You will not build schools in order to raise-up the children of the priests. You will not allow the widows, the orphans, and the disabled among the Arab women to find refuge in the abbeys of your nuns. Further, you will not allow an Arab to become a bishop not even a priest or a servant at the abbey.
GOB: This issue is not of my concern. The Patriarch is responsible for these issues.
Kildani sees that this story does not only demonstrate the oppression of one particular Greek bishop in the nineteenth century but it also reflects the attitude of all the Greek leadership in the Orthodox Church.
Second, Kildani spills a lot of ink trying to show the goodness of the Jerusalemite Latin patriarchate. In this section, Kildani is not self-critical and as a result, he tries to picture the growth of the Catholic Church as a peaceful and truthful return to the right faith. But the details that he gives about the bloody tensions between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches betray his depiction. He further struggles in his book trying to demonstrate that Joseph Valerica, the first Latin Patriarch, is only reviving the work of the Catholics who preceded him. But this does not make sense when he starts describing the establishment of the Catholic churches in Bethlehem, Beit-Jala, and other places. Simply put, there were no Catholic members in many places and Patriarch Valerica started the work from nothing. As a result, the reader will recognize - against Kildanís wishes - that the main church in the Holy Land was the Orthodox Church and the Latin Patriarchate was mainly established in the nineteenth century.
Third, Kildani describes the beginnings of the Anglican Church in the Holy Land. He rightly explains that the vision of the pertinent church was evangelizing the Jews. Thus, the first bishop of the church was a Jewish convert known as Michael Alexander. The second bishop, Samuel Gobat, was the main reason behind the growth of the Anglican Church in the nineteenth century. Later this church was divided into two parts: the English and the German. The first became the Anglican Church in the Holy Land as we know it today and the second became the Lutheran Church.
Fourth, Kildani describes the non-Chalcedonian churches. He tries to be comprehensive by discussing the Nestorians, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church, and the Ethiopian Church. Then he lists the Oriental Catholic Churches pointing out that they returned to the true universal church, i.e. the Catholic Church.
In the final Analysis, Kildani provides a useful book that is filled with interesting stories and helpful resources. But he fails to convince me that he is objective in his evaluation of the Catholic Church. In addition, Kildani is very biased against many evangelical churches (Baptists, Pentecostals, Nazarene, Alliance, Pentecostals, and others). His bias prevents him from presenting a fair evaluation of their contribution. Instead, he hastily dismisses their contributions dedicating less than a page for all these churches (p. 373). He, who is supposed to be a knowledgeable and objective person, wrongly and oppressively lists them with cults such as Jehovahís witnesses. Further, he points out that they are usurpers who tempt people with money and act in an unethical ways without providing any proofs. As a result he is guilty of Ad hominem.