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Stories on the Church of Antioch and the Middle East

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America is an archdiocese of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. It traces its roots to first century Antioch (modern-day Antakya, Turkey), the city in which the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The Patriarchate is led by His Beatitude John X from Damascus, Syria. In addition to its continuing presence in Syria and Lebanon, the Antiochian Patriarchate has archdioceses in Europe; Asia; North, Central and South America; and Australia and New Zealand.

The Church of Antioch was established by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas in 42 A.D., with St. Peter serving for the next eight years as its first prelate. The Church of Antioch is one of the five ancient Patriarchates of the Christian Church, along with Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome. Antiochians are in full communion with other Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church in America, as well as many other Orthodox jurisdictions around the world.

 

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Assyrian Children Bear Scars Of War, Face New Challenges In Exile

Cynthia, 9, and her classmate, David, 8, are among 128 Assyrian refugee students receiving IOCC assistance to continue their schooling in Lebanon: photo: Ramzi Haidar/IOCCCynthia, 9, and her classmate, David, 8, are among 128 Assyrian refugee students receiving IOCC assistance to continue their schooling in Lebanon: photo: Ramzi Haidar/IOCCJune 18, 2015

Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — Desperate to flee the onslaught of violence surrounding his village near Hasakah, Syria, Charbel remembers how frightened he was when his family barely escaped their home before they saw it destroyed by their attackers. The 14-year-old Assyrian boy left behind all of his possessions, friends, and school, but still carries his memories of Syria before the war and a wish to become a dentist someday.

Cynthia, 9, lived through similar terror when she and her parents were forced to quickly leave their home in the Syrian village of Tel Arbosh at dawn as the sounds of shooting could be heard in the distance. She is not sure what happened to her house or the family's belongings. Cynthia says she feels safe in Lebanon, but misses her school in Syria where she excelled at reading and writing in her third grade class.

Assyrian Christians, an ethnic minority group who speak a modern form of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus, are being forced out of lands they have occupied for millennia. More than 1,000 Assyrian families from Syria have found safety behind Lebanon's borders after being targeted last February in attacks on villages stretching along the southern bank of the Khabour River. Their attackers burned homes and churches, murdered a fleeing 16-year-old boy, and abducted more than 200 Assyrian Christian men, women and children from their homes.

Patriarchs Meet in Syria, Issue Call for Peace

L to R: Patriarchs Gregorios III, Ignatius Aphrem II, John X, Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Ignatius Joseph IIIL to R: Patriarchs Gregorios III, Ignatius Aphrem II, John X, Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Ignatius Joseph IIIOn Monday, June 8, 2015, the five Patriarchs of the churches of Antioch met in a summit in Damascus to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East. "We are authentic (people) of this land, deeply rooted in its earth that was watered by the sweat of our fathers and grandfathers, and we confirm more than ever that we are staying," noted the statement released following the meeting, which was reported in several news outlets including Reuters and Ecumenical News.

His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, was in attendance, as was Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Gregorios III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church,, and Bechara Boutros al-Rahi of the Maronite Church. The Vatican Ambassador to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, also participated. The Patriarchs called for "a culture of openness, peace and freedom of belief" in the region, and urged the international community to seek the political solutions that will lead to such conditions.  

Read more from Reuters

"Ancient Faith Presents" Interview with Samer Laham: Conflict and Relief in Syria

Samer LahamSamer LahamListen to the full interview

On May 14, 2015, Ancient Faith Radio (AFR) President John Maddex interviewed Mr. Samer Laham, Director of Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (DERD) for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch in Syria. The Department is a nonprofit organization belonging to and operating from the Patriarchate, located in the old city of Damascus. Mr. Laham was visiting the headquarters of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in Baltimore, MD, and during his visit sat down with Maddex to share his up-to-date account of the dire situation inside his homeland. 

"About 10.8 million people are in need of assistance" due to the civil war conditions in Syria, noted Maddex in his introduction. Additionally, due to the many consequences of the protracted war, "the whole population is really under hard conditions," explained Mr. Laham. Yet those who are working in relief efforts, he continued, persevere with faith, hope, and prayer. "We are the second largest organization on the ground...our vision in the future is to continue our work."

Joint Statement on the Second Anniversary of the Kidnapping of Archbishops Paul and John

A Joint Statement Issued by the two Patriarchates of Antioch and of All the East: The Greek (Roum) Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church

On the occasion of the second anniversary of kidnapping the two Metropolitans of Aleppo: His Eminence Paul (Yazigi) and His Eminence John (Abraham) on April 22, 2013

Damascus April 22, 2015

"It is for our hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial." (Acts 23:6)

Paul and John are on trial; the Christian persecution for Evangelization of the first century has now returned to this land. Such persecution is not common in the East or in modern times. The consequences of this trial are not only earthly but heavenly. In this struggle, the Great Judge will prevail, for His judgement is both the case of True Man and True God.

Maybe this trial is unfair, most probably because the kidnapped are not able to plead their case. But their testimony resounds ceaselessly by their spirit and life, and echoes in the wilderness of this world.

O brethren of the Word, you are our children in Aleppo; in you and among you we planted the seeds of the true word, the word of witnessing and of ministry. Behold, the plant is growing! We see this growth in you and we are proud of its fruit. We are astounded by your perseverance, which strengthens our perseverance. We exalt your steadfastness which sustains us. We esteem your patience, which recompenses our patience. How not? You are the crown of our glory and pride (1 Thess 2.19,20) in this trial against evangelization.

The Great Lent: Message From Patriarch John X

By God's mercy
John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all East
Brethren, Pastors of the Holy Church of Antioch;
Beloved children in all dioceses in this apostolic see

Brethren and dearest spiritual children,
whose strength and anticipation in God, strengthen ours;

Entering this redemptive period which leads us to the Cross (of Christ) and the dawn of His and thus our resurrection, these days bring to us the anticipation to Jesus and His divine consolation for His beloved humans; for whom He descended from His highest, incarnated in the Virgin, submitting Himself to the human law, willingly walking the path of the Cross, in order to rise from the dead, becoming the first fruit for our resurrection from our earthly misery and tribulation.

On the New Martyrs of the Middle East: An Orthodox Christian View

“The Decent into Hades” or, “The Harrowing of Hades”. The artist is unknown. Tempera on wood, from the Novgorod School of Russia and thought to be painted in the 13th century. The Icon is provided by Uncut Mountain Supply www.uncutmountainsupply.com“The Decent into Hades” or, “The Harrowing of Hades”. The artist is unknown. Tempera on wood, from the Novgorod School of Russia and thought to be painted in the 13th century. The Icon is provided by Uncut Mountain Supply www.uncutmountainsupply.comby His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D., The Word, May 2015

In recent months, images and stories of Christians being killed for their faith in the Middle East have flooded our news sources and dominated our social media. We see beheadings and shootings, sometimes available as gruesome videos on the Internet that are intended by their makers to inspire some to join their cause and others to cower in fear. We have seen bishops kidnapped, priests shot in the street as they ministered to the suffering, and innocents lined up and had their heads sawn off with knives.

Christians are not the only ones suffering in the Middle East—Muslims, Druze, Yazidis and others are also being targeted by the armies of takfirism. They are also dying for their faith, and even though we Christians do not share their religion with them, we still suffer with them in solidarity, because Christ still died and rose from the dead for them, even if they do not believe it.

We ask God, "Why?" We ask each other, "What can be done?" We wonder what kind of response there can be to this horrifying new reality, the spirit of takfirism, the mindset that makes religious accusation of others into a way of life, enforced by death and suffering for those who do not measure up to the ideology of these armies that sweep across that ancient, sanctified land.

How are we to understand what is happening? There is no shortage of analysis in the news and debate among our political leaders. But their answers do not satisfy, do they?

Christians who belong to the Orthodox Church are well acquainted with martyrdom, even if we ourselves do not live in places where our family and friends are being killed for Christ. Martyrdom forms the whole narrative shape of our history. Our calendar of saints is filled with thousands of martyrs' names, and there are millions more whose names we do not know. It was martyrdom itself which gave rise to our whole concept of having publicly venerated saints.

The Gift of Remembrance: The Many Beautiful Faces of Balamand

by V. Rev. Jason DelVitto, Ph.D.

Almost one year ago, from May 20th through May 28th, 2014, I had the distinct honor and pleasure to accompany His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph) to the Balamand Monastery of the Dormition of Our Lady the Virgin Mary, the Balamand University, and the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology. Balamand is located in the region of Al Kourah, approximately 45 miles north of Beirut. This was my second trip to Lebanon, the first being the occasion of the consecration of our three new bishops for the Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America, 2011.

As our beloved hierarch Metropolitan Philip of thrice-blessed memory had recently fallen asleep in the Lord, His Beatitude Patriarch John X had called for a meeting at Balamand of the Local Synod of Antiochian Bishops in America and members of the Board of Trustees of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

On this soon to be one-year anniversary, I would like to offer a reflection on our trip, sharing my impressions regarding a unique opportunity for which I remain eternally grateful. As a start, as I traveled with Sayidna Thomas, I was afforded the opportunity to gain a sense of the work and life of the students of the Theological School of St. John of Damascus and to meet with its administrators and students and instructors. I was greatly edified by the people that I met there and the work that is being done at the University and School of Theology.

March 29: Syrian Relief Fund Raising Dinner in Pittsburgh, PA

On Sunday, March 29, 2015 the IOCC Pittsburgh Metropolitan Committee plans to hold a prayer service and fund raising dinner that will benefit our Syrian brothers and sisters in Christ. This Syrian Relief gathering will be held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA. We would like to cordially invite your parish to attend, and support IOCC's aid efforts in Syria.

The recent conflict has been devastating. It has resulted in the displacement of numerous Orthodox Christians that are now hungry, homeless, and lacking essential items.

Last year Archbishop Melchisedek, Metropolitan Silouan, Metropolitan Savas, Bishop Thomas, and (former) Archbishop Theodosius led our Syrian Relief gathering. This year we are hoping to more fully engage all of the Orthodox jurisdictions and faithful in this Orthodox offering of love, prayer, and mercy. Please join us!

IOCC Assists Syrian Christians Traumatized in Deadly Attack

Exhausted and traumatized Christians from villages in northeastern Syria gather at an Orthodox Christian Church in Hasakah, seeking refuge after their small communities were terrorized this week. photo: IOCC/GOPAExhausted and traumatized Christians from villages in northeastern Syria gather at an Orthodox Christian Church in Hasakah, seeking refuge after their small communities were terrorized this week. photo: IOCC/GOPAFebruary 25, 2015

Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — Fleeing for their lives, more than 2,400 exhausted and traumatized Christians from northeastern Syria sought refuge in the towns of Hasakah and Qamishli after their small communities were terrorized this week. The attackers targeted a stretch of villages along the southern bank of the Khabour River, where they burned homes and churches, murdered a fleeing 16-year-old boy, and abducted 150 Assyrian Christian men, women and children from their homes.

For those who managed to escape the attack and seek shelter in Hasakah, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), with its church partner, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA), is providing food, medical attention, and emergency aid. IOCC/GOPA, which has offices in both Hasakah and Qamishli, is responding to the immediate needs of more than 1,000 displaced Syrian families seeking shelter at the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church in the Al Nasreh neighborhood of Hasakah with the distribution of food parcels, bedding, infant clothing and shoes. More than 600 of the survivors who fled the onslaught are children.

IOCC, an ACT Alliance member, is one of the few humanitarian organizations inside Syria providing immediate assistance to displaced families and elderly who have endured four years of a brutal war. Working in 28 offices across Syria, IOCC has provided relief to 2.5 million vulnerable people inside Syria since 2012.

IOCC Provides Vital Winter Relief For War-Weary Syria

January 9, 2015

Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — Freezing temperatures, heavy snow and chilling winds sweeping across Syria are putting thousands of young lives in jeopardy as displaced mothers struggle helplessly to keep their small children warm and sheltered from the harsh winter conditions. Many live in shelled out buildings with no doors or windows to keep frigid weather out, or in temporary shelters with no heat. The need for warm clothing is great.

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is responding with the distribution of handmade sweater sets for 600 children crafted last summer by 34 displaced Syrian women taught to knit through a cash-for-work program. IOCC and its church partner in Syria, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA), offered the one-month training as a way to help Syria's most vulnerable families achieve some financial independence. The new skills help provide vital income for the women and their families while displaced Syrian children benefit by receiving warm clothes to protect them against bitter cold.