Christianity is a religion that emerged in the Middle East, specifically Israel, in the first century AD. Christianity now constitutes a minority among the population in the Middle East, but this was not the case in the Old World. Despite the persecution that welcomed the religion in the Roman Empire and other places, it maintained considerable followership in the Middle East. However, the population of Christians in the region witnessed a significant decline through emigration and conversion over time.
Middle East Christianity is diverse, as witnessed by several denominations of churches. This is directly linked to the Nestorian schism of the 5th century. It was a doctrinal dispute which led to Christological debates in the 4th and 5th centuries. It happened in Constantinople, the Roman capital at that time. Alexandrians condemned the Antiochians for extremism in their claim that the nature of Christ as a God is separate from his nature as a man. This belief is called dyophysitism- the belief in the dual nature of Christ. The Alexandrians won the debate.
The victory of the Alexandrians in the First Council of Ephesus in 431 would therefore lead to wide adoption of the doctrine of monophysitism (the belief that the nature of Christ as a God is not distinct from his nature as a man) and a decline of traditional Antiochian tradition in the Roman Empire and beyond. However, the Council of Chalcedon of 451 found a compromise between the two doctrines but favored the Antiochian position.
After two thousand years of historical and doctrinal evolution, there are now four great families of churches in the Middle East that follow either monophysitism or dyophysitism. The most notable family is the Oriental Orthodox family, consisting of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church (or Church of the East), and the Apostolic Armenian Church. This family of churches separated from the other churches in the 5th century and did not accept the dyophysite Christological doctrine.
There is also the Orthodox (Chalcedonian) family, which four churches in the Middle East represent. These churches have roughly one million members in total. The churches separated from the Catholic Church in 1054 after the mutual ex-communication of the Church of Rome and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The ex-communication resulted from strained relationships between the two patriarchal churches and their leaders.
This family of churches believes in dyophysitism. The churches in this family believe that full humanity and full divinity exist in the person of Jesus Christ without any confusion or contradiction.
The Catholic family in the Middle East comprises seven churches, including Maronite, Chaldean, Melkite, Coptic Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. These seven churches are under the Catholic Church of Rome and recognize the authority of the Pope.
The fourth family is the Reformed Family. It has been in existence since the 19th century and consists of 13 different Protestant denominations. These include Lutheran, Evangelical, and Presbyterian churches. The total number of followers is 81,000, and they are prominent in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.
Despite its strong historical roots in the Middle East and its rich diversity in the region, the population of Christians in the Middle East is rapidly reducing. In 1900, 12.7 percent of the region’s population were Christians, but in 2020, only 4.2 percent of the entire population were Christians. Meanwhile, comparatively, followers of Islam had grown from 86 percent to 92.4 percent within that period. Recent projections based on the current rate of Christian emigration claim that by 2050, Christianity will have lost more followership in the Middle East.
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