mai abdul rahman Christmas 2015
On Christmas Day, Christians across this country will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Worshipers will hold bibles that bear the faithful diligence of the forefathers of present day Palestinian Christians. By and large, most are unaware that Procopius of Gaza, 500 years after the birth of Christ, was the first to develop biblical commentaries, which consisted of a series of extracts from the first disciples to elucidate specific portions of Scripture. His work was duplicated and incorporated by Greek, Latin, and Protestant Christian theologians.
Theologians portray the work of early Palestinian Christian scholars as “intimate” that kindle “ the personal relationship between Christ and the Christians that lies at the core of each believer’s life.” Palestinian Christians offered a personal religious experience, which they faithfully taught in their well-attended ethical schools. Their work and scholarship helped the spread of their faith to Asia Minor, North Africa, Greece, and Rome.
Palestinian philosophers defined civil society as one that is not chiefly concerned with wealth, power or possessions, but rather with the education of the human mind and the refinement of the human psyche. Their perspective on civil citizenry and society contributed to the establishment and spread of classical learning centers, where philosophy, history, the sciences, and theology were concurrently taught and studied. For example, 5th Century Christian converts Aeneas of Gaza and Zacharias Scholasticus interpreted the work of Plato and Aristotle, and taught theology at Gaza’s schools of rhetoric. Early Palestinian Christians employed their knowledge of Greek philosophy to engage with non-Christian philosophers on the merits and relevance of their Christian faith.
Furthermore, few will be cognizant to the fact that the ecclesiastical vestments their clergy wear invoke the Palestinian traditional dalmatic embroidery that dates back to 1200 B. C. For centuries, Palestinian Christians have preserved the use of distinct stitch patterns on their robes, stoles, belts, and headdress to communicate their religious sect, aspirations, and rank; or to highlight a particular season or special event.
Time and again, Americans ask the Palestinians they encounter: “You are a Christian?” In need of a direct confirmation follow up with “When did you convert?” Patiently, Palestinians explain that they trace their faith to the very first disciples. The Palestinian Christians whether they reside in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or Israel are Palestine’s living stones. They represent the uninterrupted presence of the very first church.
For more than two thousand years, the Christians of Palestine have faithfully maintained the oldest churches in Christendom. Invisible to the rest of the world, the Palestinian Christian community has preserved the ancient gardens where Jesus prayed, tended and harvested the olive trees that once shaded Jesus and his disciples. They have kept their churches open to pilgrims, and when necessary their sanctuaries accommodated the earnest prayer of Palestinian Muslims. Many a time, their ancient churches were used to shelter displaced Palestinians, or to baptize a young Muslim child.
So why do most Americans choose to ignore the contributions of Palestinian Christians? Predictably, Palestinians assume that their Arabic bible, liturgies, and sermons, and Arab Semitic ancestral heritage are the core reasons that their community is forsaken and forgotten. Out of sight, the faithful scholarship of their forefathers who clarified and contextualized the Old and New Testament, and their ancient traditions that are daily displayed by clerics and church are dismissed.
Regardless, without the scholarship, faithful work, and witness of the early Palestinian Christians, the spread of Christianity to Europe and the New World would have been difficult. Moreover, without the stewardship of the Christians of Palestine Christendom’s first churches would have been long gone- and that is an irrefutable fact.
The Christians of Palestine embody the resilience and spirited hopeful faith of the Palestinian people. Their resolve to continue worshiping in their ancient churches, is an act of Somoud, a distinctly organic form of Palestinian non-violent resistance. Despite their daily hardships and confounding circumstances their steadfast commitment to stay in the holy land is a credit to their ancestors and faith.