On the way to Rome

Passage to Unia, moreover, provided relief from certain severities of the old dispensation, particularly with regard to regulation of fasting and marriage. In a remarkable letter written to Rome by Euthymius al-Sayfi, Metropolitan of Sidon (1683-1723) and the chief architect of the Melkite Uniate community, the rigors of fasting are cited as one of the principal reasons for the conversion of Melkites to Islam — at least before Euthymius and others of his latinizing persuasion relegated the relevant canons to oblivion. Listing the periods of fasting that consume almost three-quarters of a year and condemn the faster to a diet devoid of meat and fish and their derivatives, including all dairy products, Euthymius proceeds to record entire Melkite communities of his and his father’s generations allegedly driven into Islam by an inability to observe the fast without intolerable strain. One such community lived in `Ayn al-Tinah, a village in the hills not far from Damascus. At a time when the price of grain rose drastically, the community of five hundred petitioned their patriarch, Macarius (1647-1872), for permission to eat yoghurt during fast. Their petition denied, the Melkites of `Ayn al-Tinah, not excluding four priests, converted themselves into Muslims and their church into a mosque. Euthymius al-Sayfi’s tale rings true even for one who suspects that denial of the petition was more catalyst than sole cause of conversion.

From “Conversion of Eastern Orthodox Christians to the Unia in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, by Robert M. Haddad, in Gervers & Jibran Bikhazi (Eds.) Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1990. pg. 456.

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