Mother of the Christian Faith
Up to fairly recently, many Christians in the West knew very little about the Orthodox church of the Middle East. It seemed colourful and exotic, and quite far removed from our protestant/evangelical experience. Now they are among us. Refugees brought their faith along and this gives us a unique opportunity to experience and learn from the Orthodox churches.
The first thing that is impressive, is the ancient history they are a living part of. The Syrian orthodox church is likely the oldest church in the world. She is called ‘the mother of the Christian faith’. In 1930, archaeologist of Yale university working in Syria, uncovered what is probably the oldest church building in the world, the home church of Dura Europus. The frescos found there are considered to be the earliest known depictions of Christ.
The Syrian church had an amazing missionary drive. It was from Syria that Paul started his missionary journeys. From the Syrian church, Christianity spread to Armenia, Georgia, Persia, China, India and Ethiopia among other places.
The Eastern Christians are not on the run for no reason. They not only have a long church history, they also have a long history of martyrdom. You could say there has been a near constant genocide. The history of martyrdom has continued until today. Every now and then there were times of relief. Yet much more than the church of the West, the church of the East has been tested.
Recently we visited a Syrian Orthodox church in Glane, the Netherlands. Sara was our young host, a high school student. I was impressed with her uninhibited faith. There were none of the reservations common in the West. God exists and we may worship Him. When she introduced herself, she simply mentions ‘I always come here to pray’.
A little later she explains what Orthodox means. Right doctrine and right worship. Worship, expressed in the liturgy has a prominent place in Orthodoxy, and is as important as doctrine. The art of Christian song was developed in the East before it was in the West. The great poet, Ephraim the Syrian (early 4th century), was called ‘the lyre of the Holy Spirit’. His compositions were full of the mysteries of faith. He was also called the ‘Moses of women’ because he started women’s choirs that gave women a chance to learn and proclaim doctrine through poetry and song. His compositions were so impactful, they are even translated and used in the United States today.
Throughout the centuries, God has used the Syrian church to bless the nations. This ancient church is under threat ones more, and being uprooted as we speak. What can we do to show our thankfulness for the blessings that she has shared with the world?
Let’s thank God for the role the Syrian church played in the early mission movement and for all the martyrs through the centuries that glorified God with their faithfulness. Pray that God will make the church of Syria a blessing around the world, as she is forced out of her homeland. Pray that those remaining will be strong in the Lord.
1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.