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Pleading for the Lives of the People of the Middle East: The U.S. Visit of His Beatitude Patriarch John X


 

 

 

 


By Subdeacon Peter Samore and Sonia Chala Tower

“The world would assist both Christians and Moslems much better if it spreads the culture of dialogue in our East and wipes away the culture of the sword…” Patriarch John X

Although he brought the love of the Orthodox Church of Antioch from the Middle East to the United States, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East said that he also brought the pain and suffering of the brethren in his native land. From October 21–31, 2017, His Beatitude made several key visits with elected officials and world leaders in Washington, D.C. and New York City to continue pleading for peaceful, diplomatic solutions to end the fruitless, 6.5-year-old war in Syria, the land of the Apostles Paul, Barnabas and Ananias, that has negatively impacted the entire region.

(Photo: Kamel Mikhail)(Photo: Kamel Mikhail)Accompanied by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, and organized by the Archdiocesan Office of Planning, Policy and Public Affairs, Patriarch John landed in Washington for a weeklong series of meetings and events. He started his journey by presiding over the divine services at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Potomac, Maryland. He celebrated the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, assisted by Sayidna Joseph; His Grace Bishop Alexander of the Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York; and His Grace Bishop Irinej of the Eastern American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Joining them were Serbia’s Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine, as well as His Excellency Djerdj Matkovic, Ambassador of Serbia to the U.S., and his wife, Mrs. Vera Matkovic, who welcomed His Beatitude to the States.

In his homily during the Liturgy, Patriarch John spoke movingly of the dire situation of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the constant need to remember the Orthodox brethren there in our prayers. That would include his brother, Metropolitan Paul, and the Syriac Metropolitan John, both from Aleppo, Syria, who vanished without a trace while on a rescue mission on April 22, 2013.

Capitol Hill meeting with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Congressman Jeff FortenberryCapitol Hill meeting with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Congressman Jeff FortenberryFor the next few days, His Beatitude met with decision makers and elected officials in the State Department, the U. S. House of Representatives, and the Trump Administration. His Beatitude was hosted on Capitol Hill at a breakfast meeting with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of California and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who serve as co-chairpersons and founding members of the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East. This Caucus has been extremely active in advocating for Christians in the Arab world. His Beatitude shared important policy points with them, including:

  • The Church of Antioch advocates for preserving the rich, pluralist, and intricate culture which has existed in Syria for thousands of years and for maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and all the countries of the Middle East. Christians in Syria do not want to leave, nor do they want to live apart from their Moslem brothers and sisters. It is only religious extremism and the "culture of the sword" which must be rooted out of the Middle East.
  • As committed as the Church of Antioch is to the safety and security of Syria and the Arab world, it is equally committed to the safety and security of the United States, the home and native land for many Antiochian Orthodox Christians. Stabilization of Syria and the continuing existence of Christianity in the region creates an environment in which religious extremism is less likely to foment throughout the world.

In Defense of Christians Press Conference at the National Press ClubIn Defense of Christians Press Conference at the National Press ClubHis Beatitude was also an honored guest of the annual summit of “In Defense of Christians,” or IDC, an organization that seeks to bring worldwide attention to the plight of Christians struggling to survive in the Middle East. Patriarch John was a keynote speaker at the opening event for IDC, a press conference at the National Press Club. Patriarch John reminded American and international decision makers that the Antiochian Patriarchate represents a strong network of Christian churches in Syria and the Middle East – the oldest Christian community in existence – and that this is a constituency which is committed to peace. His Beatitude also urged these leaders to assist in the location and release of captives, including the missing metropolitans.

Patriarch John also stressed to these decision makers that his church is very active in helping the 2.5 million refugees and 6.5 million displaced persons due to the Syrian war. Half of them are children. The Patriarchate’s Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (DERD) provides food, temporary shelter, clothing, hygiene kits, and school supplies to half of this impacted population. DERD seeks to “offer help to those who are in dire need, ensuring that efforts are made to provide service to all, to spread the spirit of humanity, justice, tranquility and peace among those affected, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.”

At the Hudson InstituteAt the Hudson InstituteAlso during his time in Washington, His Beatitude met with a number of religious leaders and policy centers. He spoke at the Hudson Institute, along with Sayidna Joseph, on the future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and the United States. They explained that many Americans do not know about the unbroken Orthodox Christian presence in the Middle East, and how it constantly works to alleviate the sufferings of all peoples there, in spite of constant foreign efforts to undermine any stability the region could know. Sayidna Joseph remarked that our growing Archdiocese, especially with American converts to the faith, is gradually bearing witness and growing understanding among their neighbors in hopes of building popular support to end the war.

After their week in Washington, His Beatitude and His Eminence traveled to New York, where Patriarch John celebrated the following Sunday’s Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. Joining them on October 29 were His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA); and hierarchs of three Antiochian dioceses: Their Graces, Bishop Thomas of Oakland, Charleston and the Mid-Atlantic; Bishop John of Worcester and New England; and Bishop Nicholas of Miami and the Southeast.

Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral, Brooklyn, NY (photo: Andre Christoforides)Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral, Brooklyn, NY (photo: Andre Christoforides)Patriarch John focused his homily on that day’s Epistle lesson to the Galatians (2:16-20), where St. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.” His Beatitude said, “This message is clear for each and every one of us, either in our motherland, or here in the Archdiocese of North America. Christ was lifted onto the cross where He died bodily, but being the divine God and Master, He destroyed death and rose from the dead. We are all crucified with Christ, and so we live in Christ. His made His own resurrection our resurrection.”

Regarding the suffering Christians of Syria and the Middle East, Patriarch John said, “Your brothers and sisters in the motherland are unshaken and rooted in those lands. They make sure Christ lives in them, and to become what Christ calls them to be. The same goes for you on these blessed shores.”

At the banquet with Patriarch Rai (photo: Andre Christoforides)At the banquet with Patriarch Rai (photo: Andre Christoforides)Following the Divine Liturgy, the Patriarch, hierarchs, clergy and laity gathered at a special banquet with His Beatitude Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, along with hierarchs, clergy and laity of the Maronite Church. Patriarch Rai was also a special guest at IDC in Washington, where he pleaded for an end to the Syrian war so that the refugees and displaced could return to the homes they love but left behind.

The Sunday banquet marked the first time these two patriarchs met together in the U.S. Patriarch Rai remarked that God called Patriarch John during a difficult time to carry the cross for all Christians in the Middle East, especially following the kidnapping of his brother and the Syriac metropolitan. Patriarch John called Patriarch Rai’s friendship and presence during past week a source of great joy, and words were insufficient to show his brotherly love for him. Proceeds raised at the banquet went to support victims in war-torn Syria.

The next day, His Beatitude granted two media interviews. In the first with Fox News, he thanked the U.S. for fighting terrorism in Syria, but also called for the lifting of its sanctions against the Syrian people so they can recover. Then, speaking to Antiochian.org, Patriarch John said the international community must acknowledge that the war in Syria has nothing to do with sectarian strife. In the same interview, Metropolitan Joseph stressed that the sanctions have greatly restricted the amount of aid the Archdiocese could render to Syrians for fear it could run into trouble with governments worldwide. However, Sayidna Joseph pledged to lead a delegation into Syria, when the war ends, to clean up the streets and help that nation rebuild.

At the United Nations with U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki HaleyAt the United Nations with U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki HaleyThen, Patriarch John, Metropolitan Joseph, and the delegation held private meetings at the United Nations with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary-General António Guterres. His Beatitude once again conveyed to these leaders the dire situation and urged them for leadership to stop the war. He reiterated the desire of Middle Eastern Christians to remain in their homeland, and for the territorial integrity of Syria and surrounding nations to be maintained. He stressed the need for continued humanitarian aid, and stated that all sanctions must be lifted as they only hurt the Syrian people. On Tuesday night, the Consul General of Lebanon in New York, Mr. Majdi Ramadan, hosted His Beatitude, His Eminence and their delegation for dinner.

Before departing for Mexico City for the enthronement of the new primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Mexico, Metropolitan Ignacio, Patriarch John thanked Metropolitan Joseph for his hospitality during the historic trip. His Eminence thanked His Beatitude for being a beacon of faith and steadfast in his love for all peoples of the Middle East.

FURTHER READING AND ACTION(Photo: Andre Christoforides)(Photo: Andre Christoforides)

Download "Wisdom from Antioch," an Archdiocese publication of His Beatitude's thoughts on the Syrian crisis

Donate to the Archdiocese Syrian Relief Program (all funding goes directly to DERD)

Read the Fox News story

Read the announcement of His Beatitude's visit