At the time when Western Europeans fled to the East, much of the East was Catholic, including Egypt, Palestine, Greece and Asia Minor. That began to change in the seventh century with the rise of the Persian and Arab Empires. Forty-four monks were martyred at the monastery of Sabas during the Persian invasion of Jerusalem in 614. Some monks had fled, forced to wander from place to place as the Persians, and later the Arab Muslims, advanced. Syria fell in 636, Palestine fell in 638, and Egypt fell by 642. The Persian occupation of Damascus from 612 to 628 and its surrender to the Arab empire in 635, still allowed a Christian, such as St. John of Damascus, to have a prominent role.Share
In 651, Damascus became the capital of the first of the Umayyad caliphs who ruled the Arab Empire, including the eastern and southern provinces of what had been the Byzantine Empire in an earlier time. There, it had been possible to receive a classical education, becoming proficient in his knowledge of Greek prose and verse. St. John of Damascus was educated there. In early adulthood, he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, serving in the fiscal administration of the Arab empire although he was a Christian. However, around 706, the Umayyad civil service switched its official language from Greek to Arabic. Within a decade or so afterward, John of Damascus left his post and became a Palestinian monk.
By the late seventh century, Muslim Arabs had gained control of northern Africa, taking Carthage in 698. By 715, the Eastern and Western Empires had become irrevocably divided and Arab attacks plagued Constantinople. Constantinople was besieged by Arabs from 717 to 718. In the wake of frequent wars, people faced plagues and famines, adding to their hardships.
In the early eighth century, the Berbers, led by Arabs, invaded Spain, taking it from one of the strongest Visigothic states within weeks. The invaders destroyed the Spanish culture that had produced, earlier in the same century, the work of Isidore of Seville, who had introduced Aristotle to seventh century Spain – the last of the classical Christian philosophers.
That era of decline in the east cannot be attributed to Christianity as a religion. The Byzantines eventually prevailed, successfully defending Constantinople, although portions of what had once been part of the Byzantine Empire remained under Arab control. Constantinople was still Christian when it emerged from its decline of the seventh and eighth centuries, and it was the wealthiest city in the world for centuries afterward. (Read more.)