Libya, Arabic: ليبيا Lībiyā, is a country in the Maghreb region of northern Africa, bordered on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the west by Tunisia and Algeria, the east by Egypt and Sudan, and the south by Chad and Niger. Areas within present day Libya, Cyrenaica, also known as the Pentapolis, and Tripolitania, have had associations with Christianity since the days of Jesus.
Cyrenaica was colonized by Greeks as early as the seventh century before Christ. A civilization built up around a group of five cities in the western part of the province associated with the oldest city, Cyrene. Cyrene became an intellectual and artistic center in the early Hellenic world. In the sixth century before Christ, the Pentapolis was conquered by the Persians, followed by Alexander the Great two centuries later.
In the century before the Nativity of Christ the Romans came to control the area which soon became associated with the activities of Jesus and his apostles. The Synoptic Gospels relate the presence of Simon of Cyrene at the crucifixion of Christ as he carried the Savior's cross. According to tradition, Mark the Evangelist was born in the Pentapolis. During the centuries after the resurrection of Christ, his followers in the Pentapolis grew with historical roots with the Church in Egypt. Bishops from Libya were present at many of the early councils including those at Nicea and Ephesus. This church fell into schism over the decrees of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Christian society of North Africa fell victim to the attacks of invaders, first of the Vandals of the fifth century, followed by that of the Muslim Arabs in the late seventh century. Over the following centuries the presence of Christianity was reduced to that of a small minority within an Islamic culture, with the majority of Christians following the non-Chalcedonian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt.
Today, the majority of Orthodox Christians in Libya are under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians in Libya are under the jurisdiction of the Church of Alexandria and include communities of Russian, Greek, and Serbian Orthodox believers.
During Gaddafi's rule relations between Christians and Muslims in Libya were relatively peaceful, although there were restrictions on Christian religious activity including restrictions on religious literature. Proselytizing Muslims is prohibited such that a non-Muslim man must convert to Islam if he marries a Muslim woman. After the war in the Libyan society the rise of islamic fundamentalism is noted and the attitude to christian minority has worsened.
Now in Tripoli the Greek Orthodox parish of St. George functions. The church building dates back to 1647. As a Greek news agency reported on August 25, 2011, the Orthodox church in Tripoli was ransacked. On May 7, 2012, an unknown assailant fired shots at the church, narrowly missing the priest as he opened the door in the morning. On September 16, 2012 the church was again attacked. The four who had climbed over the walls smashed three icons in the church courtyard and burned Greek and Cypriot flags, a member of the congregation told the Libya Herald, but were unable to get into the locked church itself. They tried to set fire to the wooden frames of the icons but failed. According to another member of the congregation, the priest who lives next door to the church was awakened at around 00:30 hours by the noise. Alerted to his presence, the four men fled the scene.
|Orthodoxy in Africa|