When we look to the spiritual heritage of the Middle East today, we mostly think of Islam. Though there is a strong Christian presence in some countries, the dominating religion of the Middle East is Islam by far. One of the most well known and renowned spiritual leaders of this region is Muhammad, the man who changed the religious face of the Middle East. But what is less known is that the Middle East has a rich Christian heritage as well that goes back to the early Church. Around 300 AD the spiritual climate of the Church was beginning to change.
The Church was no longer a rejected sect of Judaism like in the days of the first disciples. Nor was it under intense persecution from the Roman government. For the first time in Church history Christianity was actually the religion of the government. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 113 AD and changed the expression of Christianity in the Middle East and South Eastern Europe. But for some, this change was not actually a positive one. Before the Church was refined in the fires of persecution, you risked your life by choosing Jesus. Now Christianity was the religion of the ruling powers and if you wanted to be in power you needed to be “Christian”. The once pure Church was now corrupted from the inside. This change in the structure of the Church led men and women into desert spirituality.
The people who fled to the desert were fleeing from the comfort of false Christianity. They learned from the early Church that in order to grow spiritually you had to suffer to some measure physically- putting to death the flesh, so to speak, that the spirit may soar. Those who went first later became the spiritual fathers and mothers of those who followed. Soon there were “cities” raised in the wilderness places around Egypt and Syria of devoted Christian colonies which would later become monasteries. The wisdom of these forerunners is recorded in books that we benefit from to this day.
Though the Middle East is currently under the mask of Islam the truth is its roots are deeply found in Christ. The spiritual wells that were dug by the disciples, the early Church and the monastics are springing open today in places across the Middle East. We have hope that the love of Jesus will be known in the Middle East and lives will be changed by His presence.
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