Nestorians

And this just in from the 13th century: What did the popes (secretly) say to the Mongols?

And this just in from the 13th century: What did the popes (secretly) say to the Mongols?

I’ve been in Mongolia the past two weeks helping a friend write a book and seeing as much of this Central Asian nation as I possibly can. I say “central” because the ethos of this place is high steppe, not the coastlines of the Far East.

English-language media are almost non-existent here, but I have found one: Montsame, a government-run national news agency, that ran a tiny piece last week about letters between Mongol emperors and medieval popes during the 1200s.

Is that breaking news? Maybe not. But today we will focus on new information.

St. Francis had been dead about 20 years when all this started. Marco Polo was being born (in 1254). A photo I’ve included with this entry shows how folks (minus the 21st century interlopers) dressed during this time.

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME — On July 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received official copies of letters of khans of the Ilkhanate to the Popes.

Copies of letters from Pope Innocent IV to Guyuk Khan (March 13, 1245), Pope Urban IV to Khulegu Khan May 23, 1263, Abaqa Khan to Pope Clement IV (summer of 1268), Pope Nicholas III to Abaqa Khan (April 1, 1278), a travel permit given to the envoys of Roman Catholic Church by Abaqa Khan, two letters from Pope Nicholas IV to Argun Khan (April 2, 1288) and the letter from Argun Khan to Pope Nicholas IV were received.

Never knew the 13th century had so much ecumenical activity, did you?

The letters were copied according to the official agreement with the Vatican Secret Archives established with the support of the officials of Mongolian Embassy in Italy headed by Ambassador of Mongolia to Italy Ts. Jambaldorj.

This is pretty stilted, but there’s a fascinating story behind it all.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Who are the Yazidis of Iraq? (And why are they facing such bitter persecution?)

Who are the Yazidis of Iraq? (And why are they facing such bitter persecution?)

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

I’ve heard of Yazidis but don’t know much about them. What are some basics of their beliefs?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The genocidal effort by the “Islamic State” (I.S.) to exterminate devotees of this small Kurdish religion centered in mountainous northern Iraq is a great moral outrage of the era. The opponents’ bloodthirsty zeal exceeds even the persecution, enslavement, exile, and murder I.S. has visited upon Christians.

With Mosul as the current focus of coalition combat to expel I.S., note that just 36 miles northeast of that metropolis lies Lalish, the holy city of the Yazidi (also transliterated as Yezidi, Azidi, Zedi, or Izdi). It’s the site of the major shrine and pilgrimage destination, the tomb of 12th Century Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, venerated as the founder (or co-founder) of the faith.

Yazidism is also in the news because refugee Nadia Murad Bassee has emerged internationally as the Yazidi voice for thousands of fellow young women subjected to kidnapping, sexual trafficking and rape at the hands of I.S.  In recent weeks she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, and shared the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought with another Yazidi, Lamiya Aji Bashar.

Such hate has persisted over centuries and Yazidi annals count 72 previous waves of persecution. Muslim extremists find the Yazidis especially repellent and threatening. They are considered apostates from true Islam and thus deserving of death, and also as supposed “devil worshippers.”

In fact, this is a unique and lavishly syncretistic creed.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

Byzantine details: How are the Orthodox Christian churches organized, and why?

DAVID ASKS:

Most of us in the U.S. are aware of Orthodox Christians but don’t really understand their organization. Can you expand on their split around the world?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Our previous Q and A about Islam’s founding Sunni-Shi’a split mentioned divisions within Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy, which means “correct teaching,” sees itself as preserving Christianity’s earliest and most authentic form. This faith is in the spotlight what with (1) history’s first meeting between a Catholic pope and a patriarch of Russia’s massive Orthodox church, and (2) the June 16-27 “Holy and Great Council” of all bishops in Crete, potentially (if it is held) Eastern Orthodoxy’s most consequential event in more than 12 centuries.

Writing online Feb. 10, sociologist Peter Berger (a Lutheran) said through recent centuries this faith has existed mostly in three contexts: as a state religion, as a “persecuted or barely tolerated” church under Islamic or Communist rule or in the diaspora outside its heartland (e.g. in the United States) where separate and competing churches under foreign hierarchies generate “ethnic cacophony.”

The ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy -- Orthodoxy dates its birth at Pentecost -- are organized into three branches that stem from the 5th Century debate on how to define the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

Caution: This gets technical.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Concerning other little-known religious 'genocides' on the edges of the news

Concerning other little-known religious 'genocides' on the edges of the news

Pope Francis infuriated the government of Turkey by using the word “genocide” leading up to April 24, the 100th anniversary of the start of the mass murder of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire. That atrocity, amid the chaos and rivalries of World War One, is often regarded as the forerunner and inspiration for Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

In the April 15 issue of The Christian Century, Baylor University historian Philip Jenkins reports on another 2015 centennial that major media have ignored -- the “Sayfo” (“sword” year) memorialized by Christian Assyrians. Among other events, historians will examine this at the Free University of Berlin June 24-28. During that dying era of the empire with its historic Muslim Caliphate, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks were also killed during the “Pontic” ethnic cleansing.

The hatred toward all three Christian groups a century ago finds unnerving echoes in current attacks by Muslim fanatics in the Mideast and Africa, most recently the video beheadings of Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Assyrians are also  victimized once again, now by ISIS under its purported restoration of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The Assyrians’ story is part of the over-all emptying out of Christianity across the Mideast.

Please respect our Commenting Policy