Even a cursory reading or exposure to the current news media has made the world aware of the new martyrs among the Christians of the Apostolic Churches in Syria. Christians make up merely 10% of the 22 million inhabitants of Syria, with most belonging to the Greek Orthodox, Melkite-Greek Catholic and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch. A recent Eurasia Review article reported that, “The areas controlled by the opposition are witnessing the rise of radical forms of Sunni Islam with the extremists not willing to live in peace with the Christians.
Many of these gangs and armed groups operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, which rejects such kinds of discrimination against minorities.” What was once a peaceful country has become a battleground of destruction, devastation and death. It is feared that a continuation of armed hostilities will result in the mass exodus of Christians similar to what has happened in the ethnic cleansing of the Christians of Iraq and Palestine. Another Eurasia Review article comments: “The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude.”
What can we do as members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom- Western Region (SSJC-WR)? In the past, I have forwarded to our members and readers the call made for a moral alliance of the Apostolic Churches against pagan secularism and blatant societal de-Christianization. Now I forward the call for all of us to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, both to those who are victims in this tragic conflict and to the perpetrators of these atrocious hostilities as well.
Among the spiritual works of mercy, instructing those in ignorance, comforting those in sorrow, forgiving those inflicting injury and praying for all, stand out as needed in this situation. Among the corporal works of mercy, giving monetary or material aid to those afflicted seems the very least we can do. The Antiochian Archdiocese in North America and the Antiochian Patriarchate, for example, are working to help all those touched with this violence by contributing to the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Christian Aid, a key member of the ACT Alliance, which is a coalition of 100 churches and church-related organizations working together in humanitarian assistance and development. Two prominent Catholic agencies, ‘Caritas Internationalis’ and ‘Aid to the Church in Need,’ under the direction of the Holy Father and the Vatican, have responded to the persecution of Syrian Christians by aiding those fleeing the horrific violence.
As an act of moral alliance, and certainly in the spirit of SSJC, the Patriarchs of the Apostolic Churches of Syria issued the following joint statement: “We: Ignatius IV Hazim, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Gregorios III Laham, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem, condemn the cowardly criminal act that took place in the Qazaz district of Damascus on the morning of Thursday, 10 May 2012, and condemn all acts of terrorism that have targeted different regions of the beloved Syrian land, claiming the lives of many innocent victims and wounding both civilians and military personnel, the children of this great nation. . . we pray to God to heal the wounds of Syria and Syrians, and to restore the children of the one homeland to one another in love, openness and reconciliation, tolerance, mutual assistance and wisdom. . . .”
We, as members of the SSJC-WR, pray not only that this example of moral alliance be of some support and eventual relief for the beleaguered Syrian Christians, but that it also lead to full unity of all the Apostolic Churches in obedience to Christ’s prayer: “. . . that I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep in Thy name those whom Thou hast given Me, in order that they may be one, even as We.” (Jn. 17:11)