In November Presvytera Catherine and I visited Qatar where our daughter and her family are living. Qatar is a small Arabian country – a peninsular that sticks out north into the Persian Gulf. It is about the size of Wales and has the highest income per capita of anywhere in the World. It is all desert with 5” of rainfall per year, but curiously, a good supply of ground water.
It is evident when you arrive that there is a very great deal of money about. Next year they host the World Cup and will have seven air conditioned stadia, all state of the art, with different designs. The population is somewhere between two and three million of whom about 350 thousand are Qataris. Qataris pay no tax or energy bills, and are given a house or land when they are 18. The country is an autocracy, ruled by the Emir.
The country is, of course, Moslem and mosques are to be seen everywhere. They are mostly Sunni Moslems who keep to Wahabi teachings.
If there are only 350 thousand Qataris, the rest of the people are expatriot workers from all over the World including Britain. The majority are of Indian origin from Pakistan and India (construction workers) or from the Philippines (domestic workers). Many of the expatriots are not Moslems, and many of them are Christians. It is not permitted to build non-Moslem places of worship in Qatar. However the Emir granted an area for Christians called the “Religious Compound”. Originally it was called the “Christian Compound”, but this was objected to and so is now called the “Religious Compound”, though in fact, there are only Christians present. I am not sure quite how large it is but it must be at least 20 acres. At one end there is a very considerable Orthodox area. The Greeks (under the Patriarchate of Jerusalem) have a large newly built church. It has a large crypt that is used for services with smaller congregations and then a large church built on top. The altar area is large and has three holy tables which allows for three liturgies upstairs and another liturgy downstairs at big feasts. The church is dedicated to St George and St Isaac the Syrian, who apparently spent part of his life in Qatar. There is great devotion for Saint George in the region – even among the Moslems. In about 650 AD there were Christians living in Qatar with a bishop and at least one monastery.
In the Orthodox church there are some fine icons painted by the nuns of Chrysopigi. While the interior of the church may be decorated as normal, Christian symbols like crosses outside are not allowed. The congregation is large and thriving, with Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Serbs, Arabs and English speaking people present. The vespers we went to was conducted by the Archbishop in Greek, English, Arabic, Slavonic and Serbian! The ruling bishop – Archbishop Makarios – serves with two assistant priests. He hopes to have more clergy in the future. Outside the church is a substantial courtyard which is used for activities such as Christmas Bazaars, as well as a house with a flat upstairs and rooms for catechesis downstairs.
Elsewhere in the compound there are churches for Ethiopian, Copt, Jacobite and Indian Orthodox Christians. Beyond the Orthodox area there is a large Roman Catholic church and beyond that an area for the Protestants. This is run by the Anglicans for no less than 90 Protestant denominations!
The compound is guarded by the police, and when you enter your bags are scanned. This is not only to protect the Christians, but ensure that any Moslems entering the area have had permission from Foreign Affairs. Moslems who have been invited to a Christian friend’s wedding are forbidden to attend without permission. The Archbishop, who received us at his house, told us how he had been visited by a Moslem author who was writing a novel and wanted to check his facts with the Archbishop. He obtained permission for an interview in the compound, but a policeman sat with him the entire time he was there!