Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Amid These Desolations: The Church of the East, Part 3

This is the continuation and final installment of my poem on the history of the Church of the East (also called the Nestorian or Assyrian church). Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

 (Pages from the Diatessaron--an early eastern-Christian harmony of the four Gospels--written in Arabic, c.1880)

Amid These Desolations: The Church of the East, Part 3

Amid these desolations fierce
The church of Mar Addai survived;
Reduced from their Asiatic scope,
They were still faithful, and alive.

Then came another empire,
Conquering from the distant steppe:
The lands of ancient Christendom
Trembled beneath th' Ottoman threat.

First Anatolia was to fall,
Heart of Constantinople's wealth;
Then Cappadocia, home of saints,
Then the great capital herself.

Ottoman Turks did not stop there,
At taking Orthodoxy's crown;
They seized the plains of Nineveh,
Where still the Eastern Church was found.

Four hundred years they labored there,
Beneath the shadow of the Turk;
They handed down traditions proud,
Steadfast in faith, steadfast in work.

And then the world went to war:
The Empire fought 'gainst Christian pow'rs,
And fearful of Christians within,
There came th' Ottomans' fateful hour.

Assailed by pow'rs they could not stop,
Th' Ottomans turned their wrath within;
Then died th' Armenians and Greeks,
Then perished the Assyrians.

The genocide was near complete,
But battled remnants still clung on--
To north Iraq they came back home,
But death had only just begun

To claim its share of th' Eastern Church;
Their neighbors still would take their lives.
And while the nations looked away,
In nineteen thirty-three, they died.

The last survivors held on tight
And built anew their farms and homes,
But speed the tale on eighty years,
And they would be once more alone.

Behind the US wars there came
The specter of an ancient foe:
ISIS, brutality and faith,
Like Tamerlane of long ago.

Beneath black flags, they die, they die,
Their homes and daughters, all are seized
To feed a darker caliphate,
Made deaf to all their cries and pleas.

Is this the end of that great church,
Which won the largest continent?
No, this is not the end for them;
They bore the cross where e'er they went.

And after crucifixion's hour
We share the glory of our Lord:
Risen again, with holy fire,
The martyred church shall be restored.
Now in camps of refugees,
And now in lands of exile west,
They pray their prayers in Christ's own tongue,
Sorrowing still, but always blessed.

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