Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Assyrians

The Last Aramaic-speaking Christians


The Aramaic language is still spoken by certain small groups of Christians in the Middle East, especially by the Assyrian Christians. The Aramaic Christians include the Aramaic community of Maloula outside of Damascus, the Assyrians of Iraq and Iran, the members of the Chaldean Roman Catholic Church (most of who live in Iraq) and certain Syrian Orthodox Christians who speak a dialect of Aramaic called Suryoyo. Aramaic Rite Christians are Christians who use Aramaic in their church services but no longer speak it. This includes the Maronite Christians of Lebanon and the Saint Thomas ("Mar Thoma" in Aramaic) Christians of India. The Bible tells the story of how Jonah was sent by God and preached to the Assyrians (who are also known as the Ninevites). Every year the Assyrians celebrate a holiday in order to remember the conversion of their ancient ancestors to the worship of the one God at the preaching of the prophet Jonah. This holiday is called "The Rogation of the Ninevites." Jesus often praised the Ninevites for their faith and repentance and said that their example was a rebuke of his own generation. Jesus said, "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here" (Luke 11:29-32, Matthew 12:41). A special blessing is pronounced over the Assyrians in Isaiah 19:25 which reads, "whom the LORD of Hosts shall bless, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance."" According to the Bible, the "Ten Lost Tribes" settled in Assyria. According to ancient Aramaic Christian sources the apostles went to Assyria to preach to the Jews and Israelites who had settled there. They also preached to the Assyrians, who believed and were converted. This makes the Assyrians among the oldest Christian peoples. (An explorer named Asahel Grant believed that the Assyrians are the "Ten Lost Tribes.") According to the ancient stories, Saint Thomas and Saint Thaddeus ministered to the Assyrians and Babylonians. Certain Assyrian Christians became great theologians and missionaries. Assyrian theologians include Ephraim the Syrian, Tatian the Assyrian, Aphrahat the Persian Sage and Saint Isaac of Nineveh. Before the year 650 AD, Assyrian missionaries planted churches in Mongolia, China, India, Ethiopia and on the Island of Socotra. According to ancient tradition the apostles founded the Assyrian Church of the East. (The Assyrian Church of the East has also been known as the Nestorian Church. There are several different Aramaic or Syriac rite Christian Churches.) Christianity flourished in the Middle East for centuries. The ethnic Aramaic Christians of Iraq are Iraq's indigenous people. Shortly after Mohammed died in the year 632 AD Moslem armies attacked Iraq and forced its people to live under Islamic rule. Aramaic and other Eastern Churches flourished for centuries until many of them were annihilated by radical Moslems. During the era of World War One, over one million Eastern Christians were massacred by Islamic extremists. However, now is a desperate time for the Aramaic Christians of Iraq. Since American forces came into Iraq Islamic radicals have been slaughtering Iraqi Christians. Muslim extremists have been beheading Christians, crucifying them, and carrying out attacks on churches and murdering pastors of churches. This amounts to ethnic cleansing and Aramaic Christians may disappear from their ancient homelands. President Bush was informed of the massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Christians of Iraq and clearly stated his intention of doing nothing to protect them. As I write this their are literally hundreds of thousands of Aramaic Christian refugees living in destitution in northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. (There are now large communities of Aramaic speaking Christians in Chicago, the San Diego area and other major cities. Assyrian refugees have settled in America, Sweden and Australia.) Liberals oppose giving aide to the Aramaic Christians out of fear of our offending the Moslems who would supposedly view efforts to stop the genocide of the Assyrians as giving them "preferential treatment." The goal isn't to give them preferential treatment but to give them full rights and protections as citizens of Iraq and as its indigenous people. Tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians have had to flee for their lives. Despite the claims of Liberals, the Iraqi Christians are not seeking "preferential treatment" they need equal rights and protection and the ability to live in peace in the ancient ancestral homeland. Evangelical Christians are very effective in their support of the State of Israel (and rightly so, in my opinion) and yet do nothing to support their fellow Christians in the Arab world. Please pray for the Christians of Iraq. Let us pray for the Assyrian people who are being slaughtered for Jesus by Islamic fanatics in the Middle East. Write your elected representative and demand that a safe haven for Christians be created in Iraq. Organizations that help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East include the Barnabas Fund and Christian Solidarity International.

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