"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syrian Antioch's Churches

Somewhere in the vast Churchill canon I read the late prime minister despairing in a letter to a confidante during the dark days of World War II. He wrote to the effect, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing....after they've exhausted every wrong-headed option." Today, however, that is too optimistic by half and one is therefore left alternating between rage and despair that the US, Britain, and others seem determined to pick only the stupidly wrong-headed option in Syria, as they did in Egypt. As a result we will see one more country's indigenous Eastern Christian population destroyed (as the Assyrians and others have been in Iraq since 2003, and as the Copts continue to be in Egypt), and for what? For the sanctimonious frisson of feeling "we have done something"? There are no "national interests" at stake; there is no realistic hope of a real "democracy" being put into place, and even if, as in Egypt, there are relatively "free" democratic elections, one runs the risk of electing tyrants all over again. To change Churchill's observation, then, one today sadly realizes "You can always count on the Americans to back the anti-Christian side anywhere in the Middle East and much of the world besides." My only (mild) consolation in all this is that current American public opinion is very strongly against intervening but this will have little or no effect on the imperial masters who make these decisions. As Churchill knew only too well, everyone from Roosevelt onwards was happy to fatuously condemn Britain for her supposed "imperialism" but none of these sanctimonious Yanks acknowledges that the American imperium in the last decade alone bears direct responsibility for destroying hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Middle East and their ancient communities, some dating back 2000 years.

The continuing violence in Syria, and the threatened escalation of the same by the Obama regime and the revoltingly oleaginous David Cameron in the U.K., will put at further risk not only the Christian populations living there today, but also the remaining evidence of Christian history in that country as uncovered and documented by two important historians, Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen: The Churches of Syrian Antioch (300-638) (Peeters, 2012), xviii+372pp. 

About this book we are told:
In The Churches of Syrian Antioch (300-638 CE) Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen for the first time draw together all of the existing evidence concerning the Christian worship sites of this influential late-antique city, with significantly new results in a number of cases. In addition to providing a catalogue of the worship sites, in which each entry critiques and summarizes the available data, supplemented by photographs from the excavations, the authors analyze the data from a number of perspectives. These include the political, economic and natural forces that influenced the construction, alteration and reconstruction of churches and martyria, and the political, liturgical and social use and function of these buildings. Among the results is an emerging awareness of the extent of the lacunae and biases in the sources, and of the influence of these on interpretation of the city’s churches in the past. What also rises to the fore is the significant role played by the schisms within the Christian community that dominated the city’s landscape for much of these centuries. 

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