Antiochian Delegation to Damascus, Syria
Brother Hierarchs, Beloved Clergy, Esteemed Members of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees and Faithful Laity of our God-Protected Archdiocese:
Greetings to you and your families in the name of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ!
As you are all aware, there has been a lot of turmoil throughout many of the countries of the Middle East since the beginning of the year. Many of these uprisings coined “the Arab-spring” have resulted in changes of governments in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and unrest in other Gulf and North African nations. Since the spring, this phenomenon has supposedly spread to Syria, the country of the seat of our Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. The reports we receive on an almost daily basis from our Patriarch and various Metropolitans of the See of Antioch, together with our many contacts in Syria do not agree with the reports we see and hear in Western media such as CNN, Fox News, and others. Likewise, many of the gulf sponsored Arabic news channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya seem to portray a dire situation in Syria when the reality based on our many contacts there appears to be something quite the contrary.
Because of this contradiction, and because our office has been inundated with letters, emails and phone calls about the situation in Syria, we felt it necessary to send a delegation made up of a group of some of our convert priests, other religious leaders from non-Orthodox communities, and an international lawyer to see first-hand the situation and report back to me and to all of you, the faithful of our God-protected Archdiocese. This is important because of our deep connection and roots as Antiochian Orthodox Christians (either by ancestral roots or by religious roots or both) to the land of Syria. The consequences of the uprisings in Syria for the Christian community, and all minority communities in Syria, are likely to be drastic should the government collapse as the country will slip into chaos and sectarianism. Syria, despite the need for some reforms, has been, and should remain a secular state in which all people can practice their religion freely and openly.
The group spent three days in mid-September making official visits including a 90 minute meeting with President Assad, another meeting and dinner with the Grand Mufti of the Syrian Republic, a third meeting with opposition leaders and finally a meeting with representatives from our Patriarchate. You will see for yourselves in the following article what their impressions were, what they witnessed, and how they found the state of the country.
Praying for the peace from above that only God can bring, I remain,
Your Father in Christ,
Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of all North America