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The Address Of Patriarch John The X
To the conference on “Religious and cultural pluralism and peaceful co-existence in the Middle East"
Athens, October 19, 2015
Your Holinesses and Beatitudes,
I give thanks to the “Greek Foreign Ministry” for organizing this conference as a platform to raise our voice regarding what is happening in the Middle East, and I am honored to convey to you the love of our people, and to describe to you the state of affairs in the land in which we live and where we will remain,
"In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." This statement was written by the Evangelist with ink, and has been written today by the Antiochian Christians with their blood. I do live next to the Mariameh Church in Damascus, a few kilometers from an area that has become, as many areas, a target of field guns; our children in these areas are paying a very expensive tax in their blood. They do pay it with the blood of the elderly and the middle-aged, young adults, children and infants. In the midst of all this, the whole world proffers solutions, and tickles our ears by announcing the good-news of resolving this issue, while we still weep with all our children, regardless to which faction they belong. There is a peace which the great powers have failed or neglected to achieve. At the same time, we live in a public society, the destruction of whose common foundations we refuse to accept. We do not accept the division of our society into realms of influence, and the imposition of extremism which humanity in general spits out.
I say all this to convey to you the anguish of my children, both Syrians and Lebanese, as well as of all the people of the East, regardless to which faction they belong, of my family and people who have been falsely promised a “spring” which they have not seen; instead they see blood-red anemones, i.e., the blood of martyrs and innocent people. They see a return to the state of ignorance (Al-Jahilia) which modern civilization has long ago cast off. During this so-called “spring,” our crosses have been broken, our bishops have been kidnapped, our churches have been destroyed, and out of charitable Christian-Muslim relations, I would like to say that our mosques have been destroyed. Our mosques have been washed away, and we as Christians are now forced to pay poll tax (Aljiziah), our children have been displaced and dislodged. In Aleppo, and other places, we were shelled by rockets on the eve of Pasch, instead of being shelled by sweet basil. They have been doing all these things under feeble slogans, large flags, takfirism (considering others as disbelievers), and blind terrorism, in order to reach objectives of which no one anymore is ignorant. I say all this, asking for forgiveness, if I have given too many details in my description. However, the blood of tormented human beings in our land, resulting from blind terrorism, bears the weight of sin on the forehead of a humanity which does not rise above of the language of special interests, in order to stop the bloodshed. We are longing for the bells of peace in the Middle East.
What is happening in the Middle East, ladies and gentlemen, is the burying alive of human civilization in its fullest sense; indeed, the war aims at obliterating our historical identity. Our land was not created to be a hot-bed of conflict. Our men were not born to die in lands of asylum, and our children were not born to be spilled into the waves of the sea. If the international community is unable, or pretends to be unable, to find a solution for the Syrian crisis, this stands as a failure to the entire structure of human rights. Furthermore, it is rather a failure of international law, which has been exploited in accordance with special interests. The sovereignty of nations, whether strong or weak, becomes a puppet in the hand of great forces. The Solution is through dialogue, by assessing and strengthening the infra-structure of the state. If this state collapses, other states will collapse. In the East, we are like passengers on one boat. If the boat survives, all in it will survive; however, if the boat sinks, God forbid, all with their factions will drown with it. It is better for those who speak for the protection of Christians and others, to endeavor in deed to bring peace to them and to others. Peace and terrorism cannot coexist. We are seekers of peace and not solicitors of external protection. Our compassionate homeland, first and last, is our land in which we were born, and in which we will stay, and to which we adhere with the strength of hope, and in which we will die no matter how harshly time will treat our land. I write these letters from the oldest capital in history, I write them from the Patriarchate in Damascus, which enjoys intimate terms of relationship with the Umayyad Mosque. Had the war in Syria been merely sectarian, then the sisterhood between the mosque and the church would not still be in existence today. How can the war be characterized as sectarian, when co-existence between all religions and ethnicities is the most important characteristics of what distinguishes this East now in all its regions!?
It is time for the world to wake up and realize that the achievement of peace will set our minds at rest. Immigration, or rather displacement, is a burden on the émigrés, and the countries of immigration. It is never a part of the solution, but rather an inevitable consequence of the predicament. It is time for the world to realize that Takfirism, terrorism, kidnapping, blind sectarianism and confessional feuding, are the chief things which threaten the national security of all peoples, and not only in the Middle East. I do not blame others for the war that is now taking place in the Middle East, and I do not pretend to any idealism on the part of my people, nor even any idealism for the regimes in the East. They themselves do make any such claim. But the external face of the crisis has become the dominating factor, and the biggest loser is the innocent man in the marketplace of special interests. Hence, the Antiochian Church strives always, and through all its charitable branches, to be on the side of suffering human beings. Our Church works through the efforts of its relief organizations, and always seeks to treat the wounds of the afflicted, in order to trace the smile of Christ on their faces.
Through this platform we draw your attention to Lebanon, which continues to suffer in ever lengthening period of constitutional vacancy in presidency. It faces the collapse of its infrastructure and of its constitutional institutions. Lebanon is plagued by the kidnapping of its soldiers, and above all the suffering of the consequences of what is happening in its neighboring countries. Hence, our tireless call is to preserve our country, Lebanon, as a multi-religious society, and to strengthen the authority of the state through the securing the conditions for the proper election of a president who will strongly defend the constitutional institutions, and preserves the sectarian balance, and safeguard the historically ideal face of Lebanon; namely a country of enlightened thought and culture, and a habitat of human coexistence, and mutual citizenship. Above all, we appeal to everyone, at home and abroad, to preserve and protect the stability of this country which has tasted the bitterness of a long war, and has been burned by its fire. We call upon all leaders to adopt the principles of political, religious, peaceful and rational discourse to ward off the negative consequences.
We are, without any doubt, in a region seething with difficulties, but all this will not deter us from focusing our eyes on the Cross. We are strong in Jesus. We are planted in His land. Though the sign Cross has formed the face of Christianity on earth, the light of the resurrection of the Crucified has crowned the head of the crucified One, and streamed joy into the hearts of His disciples, and into the hearts of all peoples. We are entrusted with the Christian faith which we have suckled from the breasts of our mothers, the faith that we preserved for two thousand years in our first land in the East, the faith which we have never confined, the faith that we have incarnated as brethren of righteousness, and have enjoyed in coexistence with our Muslim brother, despite of all the stalagmites and the stalactites of history, and despite the turning of its pages, whether bright or dim.
We as Christians have never been sectarian, and we refuse to live in the dhimmitude. We have always live in the heart of our homelands, and in the midst of its crucial issues. We are not a minority, and we refuse to be called a minority, because the world knows only the logic of majority and minority. They do not know that a little yeast leavens the whole lump. We are the yeast of the East, and we are the bells of His Christ. If you weep for his Iraq, you will weep for our churches, if you weep for Lebanon, you will weep for our shrines, if you weep for Syria, you will weep for our bells, if you sigh for Jerusalem, our breasts will sigh. We are in it and of it. It is of us and in us, it is our identity, our affiliation, our entity.
Therefore, we cry out with a loud voice, Stop all forms of conflict and violence in the Middle East, and pay attention to the plight of the two abducted Metropolitans, which world public opinion and the decision-makers have chosen to ignore. We raise our voices high for our brethren, the two kidnapped Metropolitans of Aleppo, John Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, and we call for their immediate release, and the disclosure of the details of this tragedy, which now enters its third year amidst international silence. We call on everyone, especially international organisations, to put pressure on all governments concerned, which are able to draw the curtain on this tragedy, which sums up the suffering of every Eastern human being, who pays the price of what is happening in kidnapping, being uprooted, and forcible migration.
In the face of all that is happening in the East, in the land of the early church, we do not fail to mention that Straight Street (VIA RECTA) adjacent to the Patriarchal headquarters, which is adorned on both sides with churches and even mosques to this day, and which recapitulates the essence of "religious and cultural pluralism and peaceful co-existence in the Middle East," the title of this conference. We make mention of it as the heart of Historical Damascus, and all the regions, and its good people who are genuine in love. We bring to mind and we say: Is it not enough what has happened and what is happening? Our people is not a commodity in the arms market. Allow our people to live in the East, the time has come for the world to "find the road to Damascus!" Peace.
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