In the ancient city of Laodicea in western Turkey, site of the church reprimanded in the book of Revelation for being “neither cold nor hot,” our guide led us across the old agora to a pile of broken columns. One had a fascinating marking. A menorah had been scratched onto the stone, and next to it was inscribed a cross. What did this mean?
William Dalrymple is a gifted travel writer who skillfully draws on church history, theology, Middle East politics and comparative religions to tell the story of Middle East Christians. His journey begins on Greece's Mt. Athos ("the holy mountain") and follows the route taken by the monk John Moschos in 587 CE, a time when Middle Eastern Christianity was at its peak.
In the Middle East, the United States has poured money and arms into two principal allies: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Oil, strategic considerations and domestic constituencies have guided these policies. But today, with Iraq a mess and Israeli-Palestinian relations at a nadir, the U.S. would do well to rethink its regional approach.
The parable of the prodigal son came to have new meaning for me after I preached on the passage in a small Christian church in Turkey. My congregants could read meaning, for example, into the famine that the younger son experienced because our city is in the throes of a serious water shortage. We have gone without running water for days at a time. The reaction of the Turkish mayor was to call for public prayers for rain in the traditional Muslim fashion, and Turkish churches followed suit by praying for rain. It was a similar shortage that drove the prodigal son to desperation and created an occasion for repentance.
Turkey still does not have a legal framework to ensure that religious minorities can function “without undue constraint,” says a European Commission report on the country, which is seeking membership in the European Union.