This time of grave conflict in the Holy Land should prompt reflection not only upon the roots of the present strife but also on the continuity of the Christian presence and of Anglicanism too.
This is an enduring witness to the Christian faith itself remembering in the words of St Jerome that,“The whole mystery of our faith is native to this country and to this city.”
It is a sad irony that the scenes on the cover of both the present and previous edition of the Anglican Way are each derived from a Russian icon of the Ecclesia militans which represents the Church on earth as a pilgrim people, made up of Christians fighting, in the language of Ephesians 6,12: against “principalities, … powers,… the rulers of the darkness of this world, (and)…spiritual wickedness in high places”.
This icon is also sometimes entitled Blessed Be the Host of the Heavenly Tsar (Благословенно воинство Небесного Царя) and is understood to show Ivan the Terrible following the Archangel Michael in leading triumphant troops away from an evil but newly conquered city. At about twelve feet in length it has a good claim to be one of the largest icons produced in Mediaeval Russia and most likely dates back to 1550.
Sadly its use upon these pages has also proved doubly apropos – first in a symbolic allusion to the sense of ecclesial conflict that currently engulfs the future of the Anglican Communion, and then secondly now, in application to the awful and far more literal conflicts in which so many have been engulfed, after the attacks launched from Gaza by Hamas.
At least it can be noted, at so difficult a time, that the figure of the Archangel Michael is a deeply positive one that is shared across Biblical sources and other traditions in Judaism (Enoch, Tobbit and Daniel), Christianity (Revelation and Jude), and Islam (briefly in the Qur’an and rather more in the hadith). He is particularly venerated in the Coptic church of Egypt in ways that echo the Western Latin prayer:
Sancte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in próelio; contra nequítiam et insídias diáboli esto praesidium…
Blessed Michael, archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil…
The Christian Populations of Palestine and Israel: Some Historical Considerations
The current conflict, initiated by the attacks launched from Gaza, serves to remind of the complex history both of Christians, and more specifically of the Anglican Church, in Palestine and Israel.
While statistics will always be controversial, and never more so than in regard to this locale, in the census of Palestine of 1922 (which was the first census carried out by the authorities of the British Mandate of Palestine), of a total population recorded of 757,182, (including the military and persons of foreign nationality) the figures for individual religious groups comprised 590,890 Muslims, 83,794 Jews, 73,024 Christians, 7,028 Druze, 408 Sikhs, 265 Baháʼís, 156 Metawalis, and 163 Samaritans. Of the 73,000 Christian Palestinians: 46% were listed as Orthodox, 40% Catholic (20% Roman Catholic, and 20% Eastern Catholic) and the census recorded over 200 localities with a Christian population
The more specific totals by denomination (including Anglican we may note) were for Greek Orthodox 33,369, Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) 813, Latin Catholic 14,245, Greek Catholic (Melkite) 11,191, Syriac Catholic 323, Armenian Catholic 271, Maronite 2,382, Armenian Orthodox (Gregorian) 2,939, Coptic Church 297, Abyssinian Church 85, Church of England 4,553, Presbyterian Church 361, Protestants 826, Lutheran Church 437, Templars Community 724, others 208.
This same census also listed 10,707 Palestinian Christians as living abroad with specifically: 32 in Australia, 17 in Africa, 1 in Austria, 1 in Belgium, 1 in Bulgaria, 2 in Canada, 242 in Egypt, 34 in France, 59 in Germany, 1 in Greece, 7 in Italy, 4 in Morocco, 1 in Mesopotamia, 1 in Paraguay, 5 in Persia, 4 in Russia, 1 in South Africa, 11 in East Africa, 7 in Sudan, 6 in Sweden, 1 in Switzerland, 2 in Spain, 122 in Syria, 95 in Transjordan, 8,517 in South and Central American republics, 17 in Turkey, 6 in the United Kingdom, 1,352 in the United States, and 158 whose locations were unknown.
In 2009, it was estimated that there were 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories, mostly in the West Bank, with about 3,000 in the Gaza Strip. In 2022, about 1,100 Christians lived in the Gaza Strip – down from over 1300 in 2014. In the West Bank, they are concentrated mostly in Jerusalem and its vicinity: Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah, Bir Zayt, Jifna, Ein Arik, Taybeh.
Of the total Christian population of 185,000 in Israel, about 80% are designated as Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian, but the majority (56%) of Palestinian Christians now live overseas in what has come to be known as the Palestinian diaspora.
One aspect of considerable importance, not only historically, but also culturally, has roots that go back to the times not that long after Christ, in that the Christians in the lands of Palestine came under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the political jurisdiction of the Eastern Roman emperors after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. They thus formed part of the Eastern Orthodox Church after the Great Schism. This led to their being known by Syrian Christians as Melkites (followers of the king). This also entailed a deep sense of difference from the Oriental Christian Churches of the Assyrians and Nestorians, in what we now call Syria and Iraq.
The Melkites were first heavily Hellenised in the following centuries, abandoning their original Western Aramaic language in favour of Greek, so that by the 7th century, Jerusalem and Byzantine Palestine had become centres of Greek culture in the Orient.
However, after the Muslim conquest, the Melkites shifted linguistically again, this time from Greek to Arabic, a process which led this particular community being the most culturally Arabic of the Levant, even though its members understand themselves very deeply to be directly descended from the first Aramaic speaking followers of Christ. Despite this, the deep “Arabization” and cultural continuities have led to many shared cultural and even religious practices across the usual religious divides separating Muslim and Christian practice – ranging from shared saints and feast days to Muslim women praying for a child to the Virgin Mary.
Reflecting on the Anglican Church In Palestine and Israel
The aspects of indigenous roots and “Arabization” touched on above, have had further and particular significance for the evolution of the Anglican church in this context, something that has distinguished it significantly from other denominations in the area.
It is also important to recognise that the overall history of the Anglican Church in Palestine and Israel is one of very considerable complexity. It has been shaped in significant ways by a diversity of founding parties and this is reflected in its diverse manifestations. It has also been affected by the sharply altering contexts of changing political authorities and state structures that have prevailed at different times.
In one important aspect, the Anglican presence was first really a fruit of the Evangelical movement within the Anglican Church of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which led to the founding of missionary societies. While non-conformists set an example with the Baptist missionary Society founded in 1792 and the non-conformist London Missionary Society (LMS) established in 1795, Anglicans soon followed with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) being founded in 1799. Then in 1809, the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (also known as the London Jews’ Society, LJS) was founded with the result that in 1826 one John Nicolayson, a Dane, arrived in Jerusalem under their sponsorship. He obtained a property from the Ottomans who then ruled Palestine and built a mission house opposite the Citadel at Jaffa gate. Thus came into being what would one day become Christ Church, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East, which had its first foundation stone laid in 1842 and consecration in 1849 (and it has retained an identity quite distinct from the wider Anglican Diocese there ever since.)
The (Evangelical Anglican) Church Missionary Society had meanwhile begun practical work in Palestine in 1851 with the result that schools were established in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Ramada, Nablus, Rafidah, Nisf Al-Jabal, Zababida, Burkin and Shefar’am and Jaffa.
In sharp contrast, there emerged a quite different source stream in the 1840’s, when Frederick William IV of Prussia thought that the time had come to establish a proper basis for Evangelical Christians in the Holy Land. He was aware that the Armenian, Greek, and Latin churches had long possessed formal status under the then Ottoman Empire’s rule, through permanent corporations under treaty sanction while, in addition, Russia and France had formal status as protectors of the Greek and Latins, but Protestants had no recognised status at all.
At this point, there enters upon the Anglican stage the quite extraordinary figure of Christian Karl Josias von Bunsen, whose life would amply merit a full biography in its own right.
He was a formidable scholar in many areas, including Semitic and Sanskrit philology. As a student he counted Friedrich von Schlegel, Schelling, Thiersch and Feuerbach mong his friends. He then went on to enjoy a unique ecclesio-diplomatic career under the aegis of Frederick William IV, King of Prussia –for whom he had previously handled matters pertaining to the Vatican and the place of Roman Catholics in Prussia. Having prudently first tutored William Backhouse Astor the son of the noted American businessman, he later married the English heiress Frances Waddington. He was thus perfectly placed to serve as a special envoy of the King to the Court of St James and Her Majesty Queen Victoria. This embassy was sent in pursuance of what might have first seemed the slightly fantastical project of a joint Anglican-Lutheran Bishopric in Jerusalem, under Anglo-Prussian protection. Happily however, not only did the Queen think this a wonderful idea, but so did the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London whose diocese was then deemed to include all foreign parts.
An endowment for the see was established, in the amount of £30,000, in order to secure an annual income sufficient for the bishop, who was to be appointed by Prussia and England alternately; the archbishop of Canterbury, however, had a veto on the Prussian nomination and indeed in most particulars, the see was to operate much like a regular Anglican bishopric, subject to the metropolitical authority of Canterbury. The office was moreover, to be exercised according to the Canons and usages of the Church of England. In an act of further expansiveness, the jurisdiction of the new see was extended provisionally beyond Palestine itself to include the Protestants in all of Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Ethiopia.
The needed legislation to promulgate the new see was duly put forward, and the Bishops in Foreign Countries Act 1841 (also called the Jerusalem Bishopric Act), came into force on 5th October. This Act authorized the consecration of a bishop for a foreign country, who need not be a subject of the British crown, nor take the oath of allegiance, though in consequence the clergy ordained by him would have no right to officiate in England or Ireland (though they could by special permission).
It was further agreed by all parties that the new bishop should protect and aid German communities, among whom the cure of souls should be provided for by German clergy, albeit ordained according to the English rite after examination and subscription to the three ecumenical creeds; while the liturgy was to be compiled from those received in the Evangelical Christian Church of Prussia but authorized by the archbishop of Canterbury; and that confirmation was to be administered to the Germans by the bishop after the English form.
The extent of the implicit Lutheran concessions was eventually to be a source of deep discontent to the German Lutherans while, in Britain, the enterprise was viewed with alarm by the Tractarians who saw it as an affront to the Apostolic claims of the Church of England. John Henry Newman thus saw the establishment of a hybrid merged Church overseas as a proof that the Anglican Church was Protestant in its essence, a conclusion which clearly helped advance his secession to Rome.
In any event, the first bishop appointed was one Michael Alexander, who had converted from Judaism while serving as a rabbi in Plymouth in 1825. He was ordained in the Church of England and then became a missionary of the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews, as well as professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at King’s College London.
He was consecrated a bishop on 7th November 1841 to serve as the first “Bishop in (rather than of) Jerusalem”. He arrived there at the beginning of 1842 but died in the desert near Cairo on 23rd November 1845. He was succeeded by Samuel Gobat, a native of Crémines in the Bernese Alps, and a former missionary in Ethiopia who was succeeded in turn in 1879 by an Englishman, Joseph Barclay, who died two years later, leaving the next nomination to Germany.
During this time, the size of the German population in Jerusalem had increased and they acquired their own larger church (finally dedicated in the presence of the Kaiser in 1898) which led to increasing dissatisfaction with the joint See, and matters came to a head over the requirement that whoever was appointed had to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles, so the agreement underlying the whole arrangement was dissolved by the King of Prussia in 1886, leading to what would eventually become a separate See for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
The Anglican See then remained vacant until the appointment of Bishop Francis Popham Blyth in 1887. He was thus the first fully Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and he founded the ‘Jerusalem and East Mission’ (JEM) in 1889 after a dispute with the CMS. This further enriched and complicated the mosaic of institutions and initiatives that were to shape the overall Anglican presence, for JEM was controlled directly by the local Anglican Church, whereas CMS remained financially separate.
It was also Bishop Blyth who built the St. George’s compound that included the Cathedral, a school, and a guest house, by 1910. This was all further intended to disassociate diocesan operation from the CMS and the LJS.
In the midst of the evolution of the Bishopric, there was, however, an extremely important shift of emphasis from the time of the French-speaking Swiss bishop Gobat onwards, for it was he who redirected the Anglican missionary work away from the Jewish people towards the Arab speaking (Eastern and Catholic) population instead, a fundamental shift that has shaped the overall perspective of the Anglican church in Palestine and Israel ever since.
Because of the diverse strands of engagement that created the Anglican presence in the Holy Land, the detailed story of its unfolding is deeply complex. But in overall terms, it is clear that most of the important developments between the arrival of the first Anglican missionaries in 1826, the establishment of the joint Anglican-Lutheran Bishopric in 1841 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 were the creation of several quite different missionary tracks
The London Jews Society had focused on the Jewish community but yielded very few converts and made even less headway outside Jerusalem. CMS, which had become Bishop Gobat’s main evangelical tool, had mainly converted Arab Christians to the Anglican faith, but had a particular focus on education, and it was the education track over time that also produced a growing number of lifelong Arab Anglicans.
Looked at geographically, the three missionary organizations, (LJS, the CMS and the JEM), each also had distinct geographic areas of operations. The LJS concentrated on Christ Church in the Old City and its focus of mission remained the conversion of Jews. The CMS owned the property of Bishop Gobat’s school and properties in the Old City and around St. Paul’s church and education for the emerging Arab-Anglican community was its primary focus. The JEM meanwhile was concentrated primarily around St. George’s church on Nablus road and was closely tied to the Bishop and diocese itself.
Looked at sequentially, there is also a further story to notice, not only of changing focus away from conversion of the Jewish population to conversion of the Arab demographic, but one also about the Arabization of the Anglican Church.
The first phase in the Ottoman period of 1840-1917, saw the establishment of the initial Anglican presence in the Holy Land and its penetration of local Arab communities. This was accomplished by various and separate missionary movements with different target populations.
Under the Ottomans, the Christian churches such as the Greek Orthodox and Catholics had been granted Millet status (which meant that they were officially recognized as non-Muslim groups or communities within the Ottoman Empire) with each placed under a religious head of its own who also exercised civilian functions of importance, even though certain civic disadvantages were entailed for non-Muslims along with liability to extra taxes. But the Anglicans arrived too late to be part of this system and were instead placed legally under the Ottoman “Law of Societies”. Even as late as a Palestine Order-in-Council of 1922 confirmed the Ottoman recognition of ‘courts of religious communities’ and in 1939 a Schedule of recognized communities was added, but Anglicans were still not included as a distinct and recognised group in their own right (A parallel circumstance has held in Egypt for Anglicans as well with some complex and adverse legal and financial consequences there that still unfold). It was however during this time that ordinations of local Palestinian clergy began, something that began to shape and align the church overall with a Palestinian perspective.
The second phase, took place through the period of the British mandate from 1918-1948 and, ironic as it might seem, this actually marked a decline in the expansion of the Anglican community and a turn instead towards consolidation, since on the one hand, open evangelization was greatly curtailed, owing to strict limitations placed by the government under the Mandate on proselytizing, while on the other hand, CMS faced major financial difficulties at the same time. This also was a period in which pro-Arab sentiments intensified among the English clergy and the Arab laity. It saw also, further Arabization of the clergy and marginalisation of the London Jews Society, as the LJS came to be viewed as a completely separate institution (with a paradox insofar as it sought to convert Jews on the one hand, while also being thought of as pro-Zionist on the other.)
The last phase of Arabization came when the most senior leaders of the Church became Palestinian rather than British or expatriate Commonwealth clergy.
This coincided with a very difficult period when disputes were rife between the local church, the State of Israel and the Anglican authorities in London over church properties. The formal recognition by the Israeli State of the Evangelical-Episcopal Arab Church as a religious community in 1970, did little to resolve the extremely complex issues of ownership of Church property that had been in dispute over decades. Rules going back again to the Ottoman period had meant that it had to be individuals rather than the church which could register title to properties and this became even more complex after the formation of the State of Israel and the passing of its Absentee Property Law. According to this law, properties registered in the name of people who left Palestine after 29th November 1947 and who were therefore defined as ‘absentees’ were turned over to the Israeli Trustee of Abandoned Property. This included a large number of properties that were associated with the church and efforts to recover them were contingent upon satisfying a number of requirements, in addition to the complexities of formally distinguishing what were actually Church assets from their (as it were) proxy owners, a challenge which has yet to be fully and adequately resolved.
To this end, a major reorganisation followed the retirement of Archbishop George Appleton in 1973. Whereas, between 1957 and 1974, Jerusalem had been the seat of an Archbishop overseeing the whole of the Middle East, from this point on there were four equal bishoprics for the region. Thus, the Bishop in Jerusalem became the head of a diocese that included Israel, the occupied territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and one of the four Bishops thereafter held the presidency of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. It was at this point that Faik Haddad was consecrated and installed as the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and his successors have all been Palestinian down to the present day.
Yet, merely to review in this rapid manner, so much history — stretching as it does ultimately across two millennia, and therefore far beyond the relatively recent specificities of the Anglican story — risks oversight of what the wider continuity of Christian presence in the Holy Land embodies. This is ultimately an enduring witness to the Christian faith itself. In the words of St Jerome, “The whole mystery of our faith is native to this country and to this city” and that faith is one grounded in hope and trust in the reality of a world that will in the end be made perfect and redeemed in Jesus Christ.
As Robert Wilken makes clear in his book, The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought, the Christian presence is a witness of both people and place, including the tomb and place of Jesus’ resurrection, the cave where Jesus was born, the site of the ascension on the Mount of Olives, the garden of Gethsemane…. These sacred places, together with the Christian communities around them, have for centuries given tangible identity and confirmation to events reported in the New Testament, such as the baptism of Jesus, the woman at the well and so much more; while the empty tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, speak of nothing less than the Resurrection itself.