Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
The largest city in the whole world, in the mid-12th century, had around 500,000 inhabitants. At that time, Constantinople in Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece were close in size. For comparison, estimated numbers in other cities were: Rome 30,000; London and Cologne 20,000; Paris 50,000, and Dublin 8,000.
The city was called Merv. It was located in the south of what is now Turkmenistan.
Move over a map eastwards from Europe, across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, Iran, and arrive at Turkmenistan. Close by are Afghanistan and Pakistan and India not so far away. Merv, for centuries, was one of the world’s greatest Christian centres.
Merv was a translation hub for a network of languages, cultures and ideas shared on the Silk Road. From the 5th century, translations from Greek and Syriac into Asian languages enabled Christianity to be understood by Buddhists and Taoists. These translations are rather like reading the Gospel through a stained glass window – recognisable but culturally very different. The first translation of a major section of the New Testament into any language was made in Asia and Christianity first established itself in China around 600!
As Christians we might be encouraged to look eastwards to understand our common Christian history. Merv surrendered to Mongol hordes in 1221 and the capture remains a merciless mark in world history, and illuminates a persecution of eastern Christians and North African Christians, that many Westerners seem to have little awareness of.
Persecution of Christians in the West – in these terms – simply does not exist. If we were to take the time to look at the persecutions of once Christian-rich cultures and peoples such as Armenians, Syriacs and Copts, we would gain a respectful and helpful perspective between ‘difficulties’ and real persecution. The very word ‘genocide’ was created in reaction to atrocities in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 1933. Our fellow walkers in the faith arrived abruptly and often at these realities across centuries. The area of the Cappadocian Fathers is in modern Islamic Turkey; the Africa of Tertullian and Cyprian is modern Tunisia.
We can be more aware of the present from looking at this past. Christians are suffering real persecution around the world. As we intercede for them in prayer, let us honour them with an informed perspective on persecution, as part of bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and fulfilling the law of Christ.
Heavenly Father, let us be thankful for your blessings and mercy, and be aware of, and pray for persecuted Christians around the world, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Study by Andrew Montgomery
About the writer:
Andrew Montgomery is a Deacon in the Edinburgh congregation of Grace Communion International.
Gilmerton New Church
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