PETER (BOUTROS) ASSAB EL BEIT,
(FROM JERUSALEM 1974/9
Translated by Samir Mansour)
IT IS STRANGE TO IMAGINE THAT THERE EXISTS A BEDDUIN BISHOP AND EVEN CHRISTIAN BEDOUINS.
IN THE BOOK OF ACTS (1.11) THERE IS A MENTION OF ARAB CHRISTIANS WHO BELIEVED IN THE MESSAGE OF THE APOSTLE PETER AT THE PENTECOST.
CHRISTIANITY SPREAD AMONG PEOPLES OF THE CITIES AND REACHED THE ARAB BEDOUINS. AT THAT TIME, THE BISHOPS ALLOWED THAT THE HOLY MASS BE CELEBRATED ON A MOVABLE ALTAR MADE OF SHEEP SKIN, AND TO DRINK WATER BEFORE RECEIVING COMMUNION.
ABOUT THE FATE OF CHRISTIAN BEDOUINS, AN HISTORIAN STATED: "IT IS HARD TO FIND BEDDUIN CHURCHES SINCE THERE WERE TENTS MADE OF SHEEP SKIN, AND THEY USED TO GO FROM PLACE TO ANOTHER WHEN CHRISTIANITY COULD BE FOUND IN CITIES, WE CAN'T FIND THE BEDOUIN BECAUSE THEY DOESN'T HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE WHERE THEY CONSTANTLY LIVED IN.
2- ST EPHTIMUS (377-473) APOSTLE OF THE BEDOUINS
St. Cyril, bishop of Bissan (Palestine) who wrote about the monastic life in Palestine, related that a Bedoum tribe built its tent in the area between Jerusalenn and the Dead Sea . This tribe became Christian after they listened to the preaching of Ephtimus, an Armenian monk, and Theoctichus I, a Greek clergyman. They dwelled in Wadi el Dabour, not far from the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.
A winter day in 450 AD. Came to visit Ephtimus a certain chief of a Bedoum tribe named Assab El Beit, with his son Tribiun, struck by paralysis. This chief came to ask the holy man for healing, he was pagan but ready to become Christian if his son was healed . The holy monk prayed and the son was healed miraculously. St. Cyril reports that "The conversion of the tribe was as astonishing as the healing of the child."
3- BEDOUIN BISHOP IN THE DESERT
Ephtimus dug a hole in a rock to use it for baptism. In fact, he baptized Assab El Beit , his son and the tribe, taught them catechism for forty days, changed the name of Assab El Beit to Peter (BOUTROS in Arabic)and accepted one of Peter's followers to become a monk, and he did so.
About he origin of this tribe, St. Cyril wrote that "The tribe lived on the border linking the Greeks to the Persians and Assab El Beit was their Boss."
In 430 AD, when the Persians persecuted the Chnstians and forbade their escape to the territories under the Roman rule, Assab El Beit refused to obey under these circumstances and decided to live away from Persia and lived under the Roman Empire.
When he was converted , he became the apostle of his tribe. He built a church in the desert.Later on , this church was known as the convent of Ephtimus, in Khan el Ahmar area, we can find till now the rest of this church.
From Peter's tribe, Christianity was spread to other neighboring tribes.
St. Ephtimus asked for an establishment of a diocese. Jovial, bishop of Jerusalem consented and erected the new diocese for the Bedouins under the legal jurisdiction of the newly ordained bishop who was nobody else but Peter. His Title was "PETROS EPISCOPUS PAREMBOLON", in Arabic , uskof Al MADHAREB (bishop of the bedouins) that diocese had no city or country by the desert.
In 431 AD, Jovial the bishop of Jerusalem attended the Council of Ephesus with two other bishops , one whom was Peter. After being educated by his spiritual leader, Peter Ephtimus took part in the Council and brought back with him to Jerusalem, the decisions of Ephesus.
4. PETER'S SUCCESSORS
We do not know the circumstances of Peter's death. We know that he left two successors , one for the bishopdom, and the other, for secular leadership.
The names of the two bishops, Ocspilius and John, are recorded in the annals of the Council of Chalcedony in 451 AD.
The names of other bishops are recorded in the Councils held in 518, and 536.
In 430, in the monastery, monk Maris, relative of Assab El Beit, became the abbot. We then have Theocus . In the sixth Century, the name of Tribune, and St. Elijah the Arab (415-494) from Nejd, were recorded.
The Secular leadership passed to Tribune, son of Assab El Beit, who was healed by Ephtimus. Peter II, the son of Tribune succeeds his father. Then came Tribune II.
Cyril, the bishop of Bissan, recorded all these facts in 550 AD.
Sand storms and persecutions destroyed these nomads. First, the persecutions of the Persians took place in 502. Many churches like the Church of the Resurrection and the Church of Holy Spirit and many monasteries were destroyed in 612.
Then when the Arabs invaded Palestine in 636, they found disintegrated tribes.
The Church of Jerusalem experienced a vital and dynamic period in Palestine and Jordan under the leadership of theses Bedouins. One of the dignitaries to sign the documents of the Council of Ephesus, was the famous and illustrious PETRUS EPICOPUS PEREMBOLON.