17 August 2017
Catholics attend a Divine Liturgy at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Churcn in Centralia, Pennsylvania. The church has been named a pilgrimage holy site by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine.
(photo: CNS/Jacqueline Dormer, Republican-Herald)
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church sits on a serene Pennsylvania mountain and overlooks the abandoned, desolate borough of Centralia.
The town is a memory, but the church still serves a thriving parish family, with congregants driving to the hilltop on Sundays and holy days from communities throughout the area.
The church and the grounds surrounding it will be the site of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia’s holy pilgrimage on 27 August, the eve of the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God.
The pilgrimage begins at noon with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy with Archbishop Stefan Soroka, head of the Philadelphia archeparchy and the metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics in the United States. The homilist will be the Rev. John M. Fields, an archpriest of the archeparchy.
After the Divine Liturgy, a procession will take place from the church with a replica of the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv, where it will be placed in the outside chapel.
The town of Centralia was destroyed by an underground mine fire, which began in 1962 and resulted in the relocation of almost all the residents and the demolition of all but a few buildings. But Assumption Church, capped with its three onion-shaped blue domes, remains on the hilltop, the same as when the first services were held there in 1912. The parish was founded on 15 August 1911.
On 28 August 2011, Archbishop Soroka was the main celebrant and homilist when the parish celebrated the centennial of its founding.
“The main thing is that I want you to hear beyond the words,” the archbishop told the congregation. “This church is standing after 100 years, despite the mine fire and the town leaving, to deliver a message to the world: We are to be like your namesake, the Mother of God, to be servants to others.”
“After 100 years, you are all doing the work the founders of the church wanted to do as well, you are giving service to others, coming together in hard times and good,” he said.
During his historic visit in November 2015, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, marveled at the continuing presence of the church in Centralia.
He also noted how this coal region parish fostered the vocations of four priests and three religious sisters.
As a result of his visit and with Archbishop Soroka’s encouragement, the place was designated a holy site of pilgrimage.
Archbishop Sviatoslav “felt a sense of true holiness which pervades the entire church property,” said an announcement about the upcoming pilgrimage. “His desire is for all people of faith to come and experience this holiness, sanctity and serenity as pilgrims to this holy place on the mountain.”
The first pilgrimage took place in 2016 and the Rev. Michael Hutsko, Assumption’s pastor, has invited all people of faith to join with Archbishop Soroka and clergy for a day of prayer and spiritual blessings 27 August.
In the afternoon after the Divine Liturgy, an opportunity for confession will be available for the pilgrims at various locations throughout the church grounds. A 2 p.m. living rosary will be prayed before the historic and jeweled 18th-century copy of the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv.
Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Church in Shamokin, will provide a reflection at the conclusion of the rosary. The icon and relics of Blessed Mykolay Charnetsky (1884-1959) will reside in the church for veneration throughout the day. The Redemptorist priest was martyred for the faith.
At 4:30 p.m., pilgrims will gather at Assumption’s outdoor chapel for a candlelight procession to the church for the celebration of a “moleben,” or service of supplication, to Mary, with Archbishop Soroka as the main celebrant and homilist. At the service’s conclusion, there will be prayers for healing and anointing with holy oils &kdquo;for the healing of soul and body.”
17 August 2017
Indian motorists and residents wade through rain water flooded streets of a low lying area in Bangalore on 15 August 2017. (photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)
Heavy rains continue to batter parts of India; thousands displaced (The Indian Express) Heavy rains, inundation, and floods continue to wreak havoc in India, with the death toll rising in Assam, Bihar and West Bengal this week. Thousands have been affected by the situation, with many shifted to relief camps and temporary shelters. Train and rail services of the Eastern Railway have also taken a hit, with many lines inundated or damaged in the rains...
New life amid ruins in Mosul’s maternity hospital (Reuters) Al-Khansa Hospital in East Mosul may be a shell of its former self but it is still the city’s main government-run maternity facility. Last month alone, despite severe shortages of medicines and equipment, it delivered nearly 1,400 babies...
Russian Orthodox Church will discuss Ukraine during cardinal’s visit (Crux) Ukraine will be on the agenda when the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, visits Moscow on 20-24 August. Parolin will be the highest-ranking Vatican diplomat to visit Russia since one of his predecessors, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, consecrated Moscow’s Catholic cathedral in 1999...
Tired by war, Syrians seek respite by the sea (CNN) Children splashing in the Mediterranean, young men and women in swimwear smoking hookah — this could be any holiday hot spot, but it’s Latakia, a seaside town in war-torn Syria...
Congregation centennial: Supporting Eastern Catholics against all odds (CNS) The Vatican is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, an office that supports the Eastern Catholic churches and strives to ensure that the universal Catholic Church treasures its diversity, including in liturgy, spirituality and even canon law...
India’s Muslims and the price of partition (The New York Times) Seventy years after independence, India’s Muslim population has begun to fear that the dark fantasies of the Muslims led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League in the 1930’s and 1940’s — who fought for the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims — could well be coming true...
16 August 2017
Though settled in Australia, Ukrainian Greek Catholics have not forgotten the traditions of their homeland, such as dance. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we looked at Diversity Down Under, and the vibrant heritage of Eastern Christianity in Australia:
In 1975, the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which ended these racially based immigration policies. Subsequently, the country has seen an influx of non-European immigrants. In addition, the indigenous population has rebounded.
Among these recent arrivals have been Eastern Christians — Armenians and Assyrians; Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite Greek and Ukrainian Greek Catholics; and Coptic, Greek, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Syriac Orthodox — whose small but vibrant communities are developing a multicultural Australia. To learn more, I visited three.
Over a lunch of New Zealand mussels, kangaroo steaks and a bottle of local cabernet sauvignon, Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who prepared the meal with relish, spoke about his small but growing community of Ukrainian Greek Catholics.
“Our liturgy attracts many outsiders, and several hundred have crossed over to join us, especially people wanting to become clergy.”
The Canadian-born bishop is responsible for 34,000 souls scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. Most Ukrainian Greek Catholics, however, live in Melbourne and Sydney.
“There are 1.5 million Latin [Roman] Catholics in Melbourne, and many of our people attend their churches if they are closer to where they live.”
This back-and-forth is representative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic experience in Australia, Bishop Peter said, an experience not unlike that of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in North America.
To a large degree, Australia’s Ukrainian Greek Catholics have assimilated, though they remain proud of their cultural heritage.
Check out more in the May 2007 edition of ONE.
16 August 2017
Families affected by flooding are seen in Jakhalabandha, India, on 13 August.
(photo: CNS/Anuwar Hazarika, Reuters)
Rains, floods across South Asia (Vatican Radio) Heavy monsoon rains in parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and India have killed more than 160 people in the last week, officials said on Tuesday, as authorities rushed to rescue those missing or stranded in flooded areas...
India’s Prime Minister denounces violence in the name of religion (Vatican Radio) On India’s 71st Independence Day on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the nation to reject religious violence, after a series of attacks against minorities sparked debate about whether a surge of Hindu nationalism is undermining the country’s secular ideals...
Report: Genocide of Christians in Middle East continues (CNS) The Trump administration renews its commitment to the protection of religious minority groups threatened by the Islamic State in the Middle East, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the preface of the annual State Department report on international religious freedom, released 15 August. “ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled,” Tillerson said in a statement. “ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities...”
Oxfam: 700,000 at risk of starvation in Ethiopia (Voice of America) Food insecurity in the Somali region of Ethiopia has worsened, putting 700,000 people on the verge of starvation, according to Oxfam International. The humanitarian organization says that about 8.5 million people across the country face a high risk of hunger, a 30 percent increase since the beginning of the year...
Syriac patriarch says West has ‘betrayed’ Christian minorities (CNS) The Syriac Catholic patriarch doesn’t mince words about the ongoing violence and unrest in the Middle East. Nor does he shy away from calling out the West for not doing enough to protect Christian minorities. “I can tell you, we’ve been not only abandoned by the Western countries, but even we have been betrayed,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego...
14 August 2017
Prelates pose for a photo on 9 August during a meeting of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of the Middle East at Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite Catholic patriarch,
in northern Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, Maronite Patriarchate)
Mideast Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs decried the desperate situation they face as shepherds of churches “whose existence is in real danger.”
They categorized the continued displacement of Christians from the Middle East as “a genocidal project, a humanitarian catastrophe and a plague of the earth’s civilization.”
“The time has come to make a prophetic cry” and to speak “the truth that frees us in the spirit of the Gospel,” the Council of the Eastern Patriarchs said in a statement on 11 August after a meeting in Diman, Lebanon.
“We, the custodians of the ‘small flocks,’ are hurting because of the exodus of Christians from their native lands in the Middle East,” the patriarchs said.
They appealed to the United Nations and to “the states directly concerned with the war in Syria, Iraq and Palestine to stop the wars that have arisen, as are evident in the demolition, killing, displacement, revival of terrorist organizations and the fueling of intolerance and conflicts between religions and cultures.”
They categorized as a “stain on the forehead of the 21st century” the persistence of the situation, “the inability to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region” and “the neglect” of the return of refugees, displaced and uprooted people to their homelands and property “in dignity and justice.”
In a plea to Pope Francis, the prelates asked, “Who else but the Rock of Peter can we resort to?”
“We are ready to heed the call to holiness by following the path of the faithful,” they said, but “we represent churches ... whose existence is in real danger.”
“Only you, Your Holiness, are left to call on the representatives of the people who control the destinies of peoples, to remind them and even to scold them that the continued displacement of Christians from the Middle East is certainly a genocidal project, a humanitarian catastrophe, but a plague of the earth’s civilization.”
The patriarchs expressed the belief that “the heavens must triumph.”
“Our call today is to become the yeast in the dough and a shining light in a world that is thirsty for the life-giving spirit,” they said.
Christians “will remain rooted in the land of our fathers and forefathers, looking forward with ‘hope beyond all hope’ to a future in which we see our ancient heritage characterize our societies as well as the church of the whole East and West.”
The statement included the Christian leaders’ assessments of the countries in the region.
Pointing to Iraq, they said they were pleased about the liberation of Mosul and towns in the Ninevah Plain from the Islamic State, but that they were concerned about the persistence of extremist groups’ “ideology, inflammatory rhetoric and the climate of conflict in this region.”
The patriarchs appealed to local and international leaders “to respect the rights of Christians and other national constituents to determine the future of their country, away from pressures, in order to achieve their fair share of participation in management, employment, political life” and to keep their “historical and geographical status.”
They encouraged the Iraqi faithful to remain in the country to preserve their civilization and help build a new civilian state.
As for “the bloody horrors” in Syria, the patriarchs said “these events must end, and Syria must emerge from it as a strong, prosperous and secure nation.”
“The future is not for violence and war, but for peace and common life ... based on citizenship,” they said. “We will remain wedded to our land in order to build the homeland that we want, a homeland of freedom and dignity.”
The patriarchs said they were following “with great interest the suffering of the Palestinian people as they seek to determine their own destiny and regain their sovereignty over their land.”
They pointed to the “daily harassment” of those who live in Jerusalem and said “the lack of reunification, the continuity of settlement construction and the confiscation of land are the risks to which they are exposed.”
“We know that the economic and security situation has led to the exodus of many of our Christian children from Palestine, but the Holy Land needs to be present, even if some sacrifices are needed in order to reach a political solution in which Jerusalem would be the capital of two peoples and a holy city open to all,” the patriarchs said in their statement.
The delegation of patriarchs met with Lebanese President Michel on 9 August. They asked him to resolve the issue of displaced persons and refugees who have become “a heavy burden and a political, economic, security and social threat to Lebanon.” Between one-quarter and one-third of the population of Lebanon is refugees; more than a million are Syrians.
14 August 2017
Bishop Robert J. Shaheen, left, laughs alongside his successor, Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, in 2013. Bishop Shaheen, who was the first Maronite priest to be ordained in the United States and who served as a priest and bishop in St. Louis for a half century, died on 9 August at age 80.
(photo: CNS/Sid Hastings, St. Louis Review)
Retired Bishop Robert J. Shaheen, who was the second bishop to head the Maronite
Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, died in St. Louis on 9 August.
Bishop Shaheen, who turned 80 on 3 June, was a native of Danbury, Connecticut, and ordained a priest in 1964. He was the first Maronite priest to be ordained in the United States and was assigned as pastor of St. Raymond’s Maronite Church, now cathedral, in 1967. The parish was founded in 1912 to serve Maronite Catholics primarily of Lebanese and Syrian descent.
On 5 December 2000, St. John Paul II named him the second bishop of the Maronite eparchy. He retired in 2013.
The eparchy, which relocated its headquarters from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 2001, extends across 34 states, ministering to about 46,800 Maronite Catholics from California to Ohio and Michigan to Alabama.
“We pray for the repose of his soul, and give thanks to God for all of the lives that Bishop Shaheen has touched in his extraordinary life” said Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, the eparchy’s current bishop and successor to Bishop Shaheen.
Visitation for Bishop Shaheen will take place Aug. 16 at St. Raymond Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis from noon until the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 7 p.m.
Another visitation is planned for St. Anthony Maronite Church in Danbury Aug. 20 He will be buried from St. Anthony the morning of 21 August.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis in an 10 August statement said he was saddened to hear of the death of Bishop Shaheen, “a good friend and a beloved shepherd of the Maronite Catholic community.”
“I ask that the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Bishop Shaheen,” he said. “Bishop Elias Zaidan and the faithful of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.”
When he retired, Bishop Shaheen had called St. Louis home for nearly 47 years; in retirement he split his time between St. Louis and Danbury.
“St. Louis has been part of my life for almost 47 years,” said Bishop Shaheen, who was third-generation Lebanese. “It’s become my home more than in Connecticut where I was born.”
He was ordained 2 May 1964, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington by then-Bishop Francis M. Zayek, the founding bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, established in 1972. It is the other U.S. Maronite Catholic diocese.
In 1967, when he was assigned to be pastor of St. Raymond, then-Father Shaheen became the first Maronite priest to serve at St. Raymond in more than 20 years.
Largely credited with leading the renewal of the LaSalle Park neighborhood south of downtown St. Louis, the future bishop led the parish through a large capital program including the construction of a new church, rectory, hall and eparchal center over the years of his pastoral ministry.
Robert Joseph Shaheen was born to Albert and Aileen Shaheen in Danbury. He attended St. Peter Grammar School and Danbury High School before entering the Latin Church’s St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut, in 1955. In 1958, he transferred to the Eastern Catholic Church’s St. Basil Seminary in Methuen, Massachusetts, while attending classes at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire.
When he was named St. Raymond’s pastor, the parish had been without a resident priest for over 20 years. Under his leadership, St. Raymond’s went from just a few faithful parishioners using a four-family apartment to eventually a cathedral with hundreds of active families.
From 1965 to 1970, he organized and celebrated Maronite liturgies on a regular basis. He also developed newsletters, bulletins, and fliers; conducted a census to identify Maronites in the greater metropolitan area; and introduced spiritual and cultural programs, including Maronite religious education classes. He hosted the National Apostolate of Maronites Convention in 1970.
Kicking-off a fund drive for new church in 1971, he later dedicated a new church in November 1975 and a new rectory in February 1977. He was ordained an archpriest in September 1978, and dedicated a new parish center “The Cedars” in November 1979.
On March 31, 1986, Shaheen was ordained a chorbishop by Archbishop Zayek. He purchased additional property and buildings for future development as a Maronite retirement center and cultural center in 1991, and again hosted the National Apostolate of Maronites Convention in 1995.
After he was named to head the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, he was consecrated a bishop 15 February 2001, at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica by Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, then leader of the world’s Maronite Catholics.
14 August 2017
In this image from 3 August, the first Syrian refugees return from Lebanon as part of a cease-fire deal. (photo: Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Refugees, rebel fighters leaving Lebanon for Syria (Al Jazeera) Buses carrying thousands of Syrian refugees and rebel fighters have begun leaving the Lebanese territory of Arsal for government held areas of Syria, according to the Hezbollah-owned al-Manar TV station. The evacuation on Monday is part of a deal between rebels and Hezbollah, which ensures the safe passage of refugees and the fighters themselves...
Mosul orphans face unknown fate (UPI) “Scores of children have lost their parents in the intense bombardment or in booby traps and suicide bombings perpetrated by ISIS. We have given them names to facilitate sorting them out until we can establish their identity and trace their kin to hand them over,” said Sukaina Mohamad Ali, the head of the Office of Women and Children in Nineveh province...
Egypt opens Gaza crossing for hajj pilgrims (Daily Mail) Egypt reopened its border with the Gaza Strip Monday for the first time in months to allow Muslims from the blockaded Palestinian enclave to travel to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, authorities said...
Turkey’s Jews stay calm in face of synagogue attacks (The Jewish Chronicle) On a warm Istanbul night in late July, the silence outside the city’s Neve Shalom synagogue was broken by chants of “Allahu akbar.” A group from the Alperen Ocaklari, an ultranationalist network, had gathered outside the building in the city’s Beyoglu district to protest Israel’s latest security measures around the al-Aqsa mosque...
Sheptytsky Institute grounded in freedom (Catholic Register) It should surprise no one that at a time of rising authoritarianism, democracy will be on the curriculum when the Sheptytsky Institute reopens in Toronto. Along with teaching liturgy, Church history and systematic theology, professors at the institute’s new home in the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College are also preparing democracy lessons. And that makes perfect sense to those who know how the Eastern rite Ukrainian Catholic Church was forced underground by Stalinist Soviet rule between 1946 and 1989, said Borys Gudziak, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris...
Our Lady of Kazan and Mary’s affinity for Russia (CNA) One hundred years ago, at the height of a cultural about-face in Russia, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal, predicting and encouraging prayer for Russia’s conversion. Years later, a well-known and beloved Russian Orthodox icon known as Our Lady of Kazan, commonly referred to as “the protection of Russia,” would become tied to the site of the Fatima apparitions, where Mary predicted that “the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world...”
11 August 2017
A pair of young Ethiopians greet a visitor at a clinic operated by the Daughters of Saint Anne. Learn more about the resilient and faith-filled people of Ethiopia — and take a pictorial journey there with CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar — in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
11 August 2017
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim speaks to media after Friday prayers at a mosque in Ankara. He expressed concern over “radical groups” emerging along the Syrian border.
(photo: Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Turkey says it’s taking ‘precautions’ along Syrian border (AP) Turkey says new precautions are being taken along its border in response to recent developments in northwestern Syria as it engages in international efforts to broker a deal. Speaking after Friday prayers in Ankara, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said “radical groups have taken over control” in Syria’s Idlib province...
Shootout in Egypt kills three ‘jihadists behind anti-Copt attacks’ (The Sun Daily) Egypt’s interior ministry said on Thursday a policeman and three jihadists suspected of involvement in deadly attacks against the country’s Coptic Christian minority were killed in a shootout...
Lebanon town rejects additional refugees (The Daily Star) The municipal council of West Bekaa’s Khirbet Qanafar released a statement Wednesday opposing further attempts to establish refugee settlements in the town...
Indian Church reiterates commitment to indigenous cause (Vatican Radio) India’s Catholic Church observed the International Day of Indigenous Peoples on Wednesday with a call to protect indigenous people and their cultural heritage and prevent their exploitation. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India(CBCI) and the CBCI Office for Tribal Affairs organized a conference in New Delhi to mark the 10th International Day of Indigenous Peoples...
Russian activists gather more than 900,000 signatures for ant-iabortion bill (TASS) More than 900,000 signatures for legal prohibition of abortions have been gathered by activists of the Russian social movement “Pro-Life,” the organization’s president Sergey Chesnokov told TASS ahead of the namesake seventh international festival of social technologies for family values protection that will be held on 14-17 August in Moscow...
10 August 2017
St. John of Damascus, (John Damascene) is shown in this Arabic icon. The words on the scroll read, in part: “Blessed is the way of life of the people of piety, for they will arise forever in love.”
(photo: Wikipedia Commons)
This was a period of tremendous change in the region.
Within a hundred years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death (June 632), Muslim armies had driven the Christian Byzantine rulers out of the eastern Mediterranean, destroyed the Persian Sassanid Empire (651), conquered North Africa and were poised to attack Spain. The Christian Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria in Egypt were under Muslim control, as were about half of the world’s Christians.
We are dealing here with a period of five centuries corresponding to: the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) and the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1158).
So, what happened?
After disagreement and bloodshed among Muslims over who was to succeed the Prophet Muhammad, the Umayya family of Mecca was victorious. This began the Umayyad Caliphate, centered in Damascus. The Umayyads found themselves the unprepared rulers over a large, very developed and sophisticated part of the Middle East — and the overwhelming majority of their subjects were Christians. However, these Christians were often bitterly divided among themselves between those who followed the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon (451) and who formed the Church of the Byzantine Empire, and those who did not — primarily the Church of the East and the Monophysites Churches. Often this latter group found its situation better under Muslim overlords than under Byzantine Christians who considered them schismatic at best. In addition, Muslims at times actively discouraged Christians from converting to Islam.
The Umayyad Caliphate needed administrators and trained bureaucrats — and Christians fit the bill. Thus we find the grandfather and father of St. John Damascene (676-749) working at the Umayyad Court. Although they were dhimmy — i.e. protected but second class citizens — Christians played an important role in the caliphate as administrators and scholars. Christians, like John Damascene, were not sure what to make of Islam. John, for example, thought that it was a Christian heresy, having as it does so much in common with Christianity. As time went on, Christians realized that Islam was, in fact, another religion rooted in the Quran; Christians began to respond accordingly. Nonetheless, relations between the Christians and Muslims in the Umayyad Caliphate were generally not hostile.
The Umayyad Caliphate came to a violent end with the Abbasid revolt of 750. Many in the ruling Umayyad family were killed and a new caliphate set up in the new city of Baghdad.
Although Christians often rose to high positions in the government, and made up a majority, the Abbasids were not nearly as dependent on them for the administration of the caliphate. The Church of the East moved its Patriarchal See from Ctesiphon, the former Persian capital, to Baghdad, the new Abbasid capital.
This was a time of great intellectual activity and Christians played a major role. Syriac-speaking monks of the Church of the East had kept alive the traditions of the Greek philosophers such as Aristotle. The emerging Muslim intellectual class with its philosophers and theologians interacted with Christian scholars. Timothy I, Patriarch-Catholicos of the Church of the East, was a prominent scholar of Aristotle. (Caliph al-Mahdi even hired Timothy to translate Aristotle’s work The Topics for the caliph’s library.)
During this time, Muslims and Christians engaged in dialogues/debates on the respective strengths of their religions — and often these encounters were sponsored by the caliphs themselves. Texts of many of these debates still exist today — and you can see some important developments.
With time, the Christian critiques of Islam began to get harsher. One also gets the distinct feeling that these texts were directed more to Christians than Muslims. This indicates that by the end of the 8th century, Christians —for any number of reasons, force not being among them — were beginning to convert to Islam.
As the Abbasid Caliphate went into a long, slow decline, missionaries of the Church of the East remained active throughout Asia. Christianity was learning to express its faith using Arabic, the language of the Quran. It was a time of Christian-Muslim interaction, if not dialogue. Although Christians were not persecuted, one begins to note increasing social, cultural and financial motivations for Christians to convert to Islam.
But other forces were at work.After the Abbasids, Mongol invaders launched more than a century of widespread destruction that overwhelmed the Middle East, indirectly contributing to what became a centuries-long decline of Christianity in the region.
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Part 1: In the Beginning
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia: Introduction