On two successive evening this week I went to meetings in London about churches of Iran and Egypt. These are the two states, with Turkey, that have the largest populations and are pivots of the region.
At the Iranian meeting a young woman spoke who had been imprisonned for her faith. A moving letter was read from a Christian who has already spent 23 years in prison. He perseveres and is grateful for the support of others, who share his faith. Please note that state-recognised churches, for example the Armenian Orthodox, are relatively free. Unrecognised groups such as Evangelical and Pentecostal churches suffer persecution and discrimination as do other faiths such as the Bahai.
The Egyptian event took the form of evening prayers for the Coptic Orthodox New Year (Nayrouz), in St Margaret’s Westminster with the presence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Foreign Officer Minster for the Middle East. The Coptic Church dates its calendar from the great persecution under the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. For centuries under Arab, Ottoman, and secular government s it has remained a non-violent, religious group. Under a new Pope or patriarch, soon to be chosen, it looks forward to being accepted and respected part of the new post revolutionary Egypt.
For those interested in Christian unity, I mention that the Coptic church uses the same Lord’s Prayer (our Father) as western churches. The only difference in the creed is the omission (as in other orthodox churches) of the words “and from the Son” (Filioque) from the sentence about the Holy Spirit. The Coptic church is therefore technically non-Chalcedonian having separated soon after the Council of Chalcedon (490 CE). Some theologians, however, say that the differences are more verbal than real.
Please pray that full unity will be recovered and that all the churches in the Middles East and north Africa will continue to bear witness to the gospel.