Regensburg II

The line in Benedict’s lecture about Mohamed, even though quoting someone else, and not explicitly endorsing it himself, was not germane (no pun intended). He didn’t have to say it, to make his ostensible point. But he’s not stupid as that word is commonly defined. I think he meant those words to be heard and to have an effect. Well, they are. 😦

What, in fact, is Orthodoxy’s position on Islam? It’s somewhat varied, in my (admittedly thin) reading. Without doubt, Orthodoxy believes itself to be the True Religion of the God of Abraham, to whom Muslims, Jews, and other Christians also look as “father in faith.” In fact I once saw a timeline-chart depicting Orthodoxy starting with Adam and Eve, continuing in a straight line through the whole Old Testament, the life of Christ on earth, the Apostolic Era of the Church, with what we now know as Judaism branching off from it, along with other early groups, the Nestorians, the Oriental Churches, then Islam in the 7th century A.D., then on with the Latins, and depicting some of their Protestant branches later. Some Muslim practices of piety are traceable to Eastern Christianity, most famously a version of the prostration (Muslim depicted). But of course, Orthodoxy continues to uphold the Trinity of the Godhead, the Divinity and Resurrection of Christ, the importance of His Death, the necessity of the Holy Icons, and other things which Islam denies.

It is true that for most of the history of Islam, many Orthodox have lived under the rule of Muslims, and some continue to do so in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, primarily. Although according to Muslim law Orthodox, like all Christians and Jews, are supposed to be treated with some regard as “people of the Book,” in reality they have often been subject to mob violence, intense social and economic pressures, and governmental stances ranging from benign neglect to active persecution. (Even in officially-secularist Turkey the Patriarchate of Constantinople is severely crippled by law.) Even so, some Orthodox have affirmed that Allah is the same God we worship, and the theologian St. John of Damascus, who was chief councillor to the Umayyad Caliphs for their capital of Damascus, provided some insightful comparisons of Orthodoxy and Islam. (In defense of Catholicism, they too revere John of Damascus [or Damascene] as a Saint, Father, and Doctor of the Church.) The current Orthodox Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow, and the Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan of North America (a Lebanese native), value their warm relationships with Muslim religious officials in Turkey, Russia, and America, respectively, and the current Orthodox Archbishop of Albania is revered by his country’s Muslims for providing social services without regard for religion. There has been very little, although some, Orthodox evangelization among Muslims, even in the face of the potential extinction of Orthodoxy in places such as Palestine, its birthplace, and Turkey, its historical center. The Arabs of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch headquartered in Damascus, Syria, though called “Greek” or “Rum,” have always distinguished themselves in modern Arab nationalism. Palestinian Arab Orthodox Christians were among the leadership of Palestinian liberation from the start. Most recently Antioch’s Archdiocese of North America has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the relief of Lebanese victims of the Israeli bombing and invasion, and (U.S.-based) International Orthodox Christian Charities has recently increased its already-substantial efforts in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza, also. Some Russian Orthodox have characterized the putting-down of the Chechen rebellion as a religious war, but so have at least some Chechen Muslims. Arguably Muslims have been freer in Orthodox countries, generally speaking, historically, than vice-versa; Islam is legally respected as a traditional religion of Russia, by far the largest Orthodox country in the world. Orthodoxy certainly never launched a “crusade” against Islam, although Orthodox nations and empires defended themselves against aggression by Muslim nations and empires, as against Catholic and Protestant ones. Many Orthodox, especially in or from the Balkans, harbor feelings against Islam, rooted in their nations’ and ethnicities’ historical experiences of oppression under Islam.

So as I said, the record is mixed…but arguably ‘more mixed’ than the history between Western Christians and Islam.


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