Middle East Christians — an overview
- Turkey, which falls under the orbit of the church of Constantinople, founded in Greek Byzantium by St. Andrew.
- Egypt, the center of the church of Alexandria of St. Mark the Evangelist.
- Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Cyprus, at one time all of which were associated with the church of Antioch, founded by St. Peter.
- The Holy City of Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the various countries of the Arabian Peninsula, traditional territories of the mother church of Christendom, Jerusalem.
While the inclusion of Turkey in the Middle East — particularly as Turkey is applying for membership into the European Union — and the separation of Jerusalem from both Israel and Palestine may raise an eyebrow or two, the addition of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen adds an entirely different perspective.
Who are the Christians of the Middle East?
Gathering statistics on anything connected to the Middle East, even the numbers of Christians, is as futile and perhaps as useless as counting soap suds in a bubble bath. A high-ranking hierarch in the Middle East once quipped to a colleague, “You have to understand that, in our part of the world, numbers have a very symbolic value.”
In other words they are not accurate. But we have to start somewhere. Utilizing census reports as well as numbers gleaned from various sources, including the various churches, there are roughly 15.5 million Christians in the region. Never prone to exaggeration, the Holy See estimates that perhaps as many as 20 million Christians live in the Middle East, some 5.62 percent of its population. These include:
- 138,000 Christians in Turkey, about 0.2 percent of its population of 77.8 million.
- 8 million in Egypt, a tenth of its people.
- 2 million in Syria or 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million people.
- A generous 2 million in Lebanon, though no more than 40 percent make up the country’s total population. While a census has not been conducted there since 1932, it is thought that between 4.1 and 4.5 million people live in Lebanon.
- 300,000 Christians in Iraq, far less than the 1 million or so who once inhabited this “land between the rivers” prior to 1991.
- Less than 365,000 Christians remain in Iran, or 0.5 percent of Iran’s 73 million people.
- 900,000 Christians live in Cyprus, nearly 90 percent of the island’s population, the vast majority of whom belong to the autonomous Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
- 12,000 Christians in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
- 147,000 live in Israel, 2 percent of the Jewish state’s population.
- Some 45,000 live in Palestine, about 43,000 in the West Bank and the balance in Gaza.
- 300,000 Christians live in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, though the government officially counts Christians to be 6 percent of the total population of 6.4 million people.
- An estimated 1,153,000 Christians in the Arabian Peninsula, which includes perhaps as many as a million in Saudi Arabia, who officially do not exist.