It is an intriguing, and alarming, fact that the overwhelming majority of the original 5 “seats” of Christianity are now generally Muslim, and 4 out of the 5 have a very small Christian population. Clearly history has not dictated the current religious trends in these significant cities. Actually, one of the five “patriarchates” is in ruins, and has been such for a number of years.
Many Christians may not be aware of this, and specifically of what a patriarchate might be. In early Christianity as the spread of Christian thought and worship was wide and deep, there were five cities which were at the forefront of Christian leadership and mutual respect. They were: Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome. In 2013, only Rome has a majority Christian population- as the head of the Roman Catholic Church (indirectly, via Vatican City). A minority of current Protestants do not deem the RCC to be a
“true” Christian church, so those persons would claim that even Rome is not a Christian city.
These five cities were the official “seats” of Christianity. Their leaders (bishops) were in effect the five most influential leaders in the Christian Church, with one of these bishops, the See of Rome, being eventually titled the Pope and in many ways being thought of as the foremost or prime head among the other four equal bishops. (This circumstance would lead to the Great Schism of 1054, where the Eastern and Western rites of the universal Church would split.)
Antioch has been in ruins for centuries, and the closest city/ town is called Antakya (in Turkey). This town, the first place where the Apostle Peter became a Bishop, has been mostly Muslim for many decades- though it does have a small Christian population and a sprinkling of Christian churches.
Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, is also mostly Muslim. As is Alexandria, Egypt.
Jerusalem is two-thirds Jewish, about one-third Muslim, and only 2% Christian today.
What does all this mean, if anything? Is it more than just population shifts over decades and centuries? Or, as some of these cities have been fought over numerous times over the years, are Muslim leaders simply better warriors than their Christian counterparts? A good deal of these answers can be found in studying the various religious Crusades which have encompassed much of this region for hundreds of years.
How can the most popular world religion have 80% of its regional foundation vanish? Clearly the message of Christ is not limited to Rome, or Antioch, or anywhere else. Over the centuries, Christianity spread into Western Europe and then eventually into North and South America. It is due to this evangelization and expansion that Christians are still at the top spot in mere numbers worldwide.
That said, it is somewhat discouraging that Christians have not held onto the populace in these historical cities that are very much pilgrimage locations for Christians throughout the world. (Even Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth is 70% Muslim these days.)
However, one must not worship the place, but worship the Lord Himself. It is not about a mountain, or a relic, or even an ancient cathedral. These places can help paint the picture and are wonderful to see and be present in, but His words and story greatly overshadow the names of cities where some key events took place 2,000 years ago.
(Writer’s challenge: Where are 2013′s most significant and populated “Christian” cities, worldwide? And do they have anything in common with these ancient cities?)