From my diary, Michael Bourdeaux, East German anti-Christian policy in 1973, and a Swedish Syriac seminary

I have a pile of academic books which I have concluded that I no longer need.  I’ve been fretting about how to post these to a colleague overseas.  But I find that he is at the Warburg Institute in London this month.  So I have spent this evening trying to work out where that is, how I would get there, whether I could park, and so forth.  I’d have to pay the dreaded “congestion charge” tax for the first ever time, as well as my first experience of London traffic.  But it looks a possible for Saturday, if my colleague can give me some directions on what to do when I get there!

I mentioned yesterday that I had an email from Michael Bourdeaux, the founder of Keston College and the man mainly responsible for reporting the persecution of Christians in the old USSR.  I have offered to turn one or two of the old Keston books in English into PDF’s to appear online.  These days the work of Keston is mainly carried out by Russians in their own language.

Keston used to produce a regular journal, Religion in Communist Lands.  Amazingly this is online here.  I have only scratched the surface, but this from Hilary Black, The Church in East Germany, RICL vol. 1.4-5 (1973), p.4-8.

The East German government has always preferred obtaining the support and cooperation of ·the churches to persecution, but the problems of leading a truly Christian life in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are none the less real for being undramatic.

In its early years, the East German government was not sufficiently confident of its control over the population to force the churches to commit themselves to the socialist state, but now that the leadership feels itself firmly established, it is applying increasing pressure.

The churches have to a certain extent acquiesced, in order to avoid an all-out attack on their existence. …

In 1971 the government backed up such exhortations with an unpublished administrative regulation which obliged the churches to seek official permission for any activities outside the regular services. Discussion groups and confirmation classes were the particular objects of state attack, and many’ of the clergy are still resisting the injunction, despite the heavy fines which they incur.

It is hard to resist a campaign against you when you don’t understand what is happening.  These sorts of narratives will ring a bell in many of us.

Meanwhile I have been corresponding with Father Mikael Lijestrom in Sweden.  He tells me that a new Syriac seminary has opened  there.  There are more Iraqis, he says, in the small town of Södertälje than in the whole of the USA.

I teach at a small but promising pan-orthodox seminary in Stockholm and Södertälje, the Sankt Ignatios Ortodoxa Theologiska seminarium (Saint Ignatius Orthodox Theological Seminary, website at all in Swedish) where students from both the Chalcedonian orthodox tradition and the Non-chalcedonians (mainly syriac and coptic  Christians) study theology, Greek, Syriac, some Coptic and  Arabic, patristics, church history,  music, liturgy and a lot more.

The unique thing here is that the Greek and Syriac is on equal footing: they learn both basic Greek and basic Syriac and apply their knowledge on the texts that are used in the other subjects.

This seminary course is intended for everybody who wants to know and partake in the orthodox eastern tradition, and not only to train priests.  Most Syrian orthodox speak Arabic (and Turkish) as well. I hope that many of them will take the challenge  to bring forward the heritage of their forefathers! We have a few persons who work with oriental christian literature at the University of Uppsala too.

The seminary is new and  small and  we are still working to become known and to find suitable localities. We have just finished our first year, and have 9 very qualified  students for the coming year. The Syrian Orthodox Church have teachers —malfone — in their parishes who teach classical syriac for internal ecclesiastical and cultural use, and that is fine and they are supported by the study unions. At the seminary, on the other hand, the Syrian Orthodox and the Byzantine Orthodox together learn Greek for the first semester and Syriac for the second, together with some Coptic and a starter course in Arabic. The Christians from the Middle East generally speak Arabic and read modern Arabic, so for them the study of older texts is easier than for most others.

The aim with this basic course in orthodox Christian tradition is to give the seminarists a good basic knowledge of what orthodox Christianity is, what the Church Fathers generally teach and insights into the different traditions. Thus they will be able to work as journalists,  and in social welfare , as Sunday School teachers etc. Ideally all orthodox people should take this course after high school, when previously everyone did one year of military service. So the slogan is: “One Year for the Church!”

I’m sure that we all wish them the very best with this initiative, which can only do good.


2 thoughts on “From my diary, Michael Bourdeaux, East German anti-Christian policy in 1973, and a Swedish Syriac seminary

  1. For sending books somebody on another blog recommended
    Have no personal experience of it.
    The book-postage I pay on books sent from Ireland seems more “palatable” than the equivalent by Royal Mail – if you have any friends travelling to the Emerald…

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