I really did feel like I’d been cheated to have never been told before about the dramatic and distant Eastern spread of Christianity. Several facts really stuck out to me – that even today Mongolians use a Greek-origin word for religion, or that there are very ancient Syriac carvings on steles in China, or that there were organic Christian communities in Sri Lanka in the 5th century. God really does amazing things.
I do wonder if we (Christians in the West) would benefit greatly from deeper study of these communities and how they lived. Christianity in the West has held power in our societies for some seventeen centuries; here in America, until recently being seen as a good Christian was basically part of being seen as a good person in much of society. It is hard not to see movements today like integralism or Christian nationalism as an attempt to revive a nearly-dead social order…one which, barring a miracle, will likely erode further in our lifetimes. Christians in the East, meanwhile, have lived as a religious minority more or less continuously. We will need to learn from them as we move into a similar status.
I also wonder what we could learn from some of the negative things that have happened in these communities’ adaptations to their difficult environment. The Maronites in Lebanon, for example, have been allied with Hezbollah for many years now, and it is difficult to say that the most senior Christian politicians in Lebanon bear less guilt for the ruin of that country. There is ample Christian support, to my understanding, for Assad in Syria and for Sisi in Egypt. They are all operating in a rough environment, and the Old Testament is full of people of faith working for non-Christian rulers…yet it is hard not to see these as, at best, choices with severe downsides. How can we navigate a less friendly world without falling into similar pitfalls.