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Help the Orphans of War in Syria

from the January 2014 edition of The Word:

Syria! The name itself inspires awe and wonder. Archaeologists have proven that Syria was the cradle of civilization, and where agriculture and trade routes appeared for the first time. Its capital – Damascus – is widely considered to be the world's oldest city. Antioch was also part of early Syria and was invaded by the Roman armies in 64 B.C., making it the third-largest city in the Roman empire. Syria continued to grow and become a major center of trade and industry in the ancient world.

After the ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, it was in Syria where a young man named Saul (who later took the name Paul) was converted on his way to Damascus. It was in Antioch where St. Paul set off on many of his journeys to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Antioch, "the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11:26).

Syria has changed little since those early days of civilization and the formation of Christianity. The Syria of today still has the same physical
features: the hot and dry plateaus, the Euphrates River in the east, and the Mediterranean Sea touching portions of its western boundaries. The history of Christianity is writ large across the Syrian landscape: monastic communities still can be found across the countryside, and churches and the faithful are prevalent in the major cities. Although a minority, the Christian community has been protected over the last fifty years, first by President Hafez al-Assad and currently by his son, Bashar al-Assad.

Our beloved Beatitude John X of Antioch and All the East was born in Syria, and presides over the holy Antiochian Orthodox Church from his seat in Damascus. Damascus is also the birthplace of His Eminence Bishop Joseph, His Grace Bishop Antoun, and His Grace Bishop Nicholas. The country is the original home to many of the faithful throughout the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Alas, this beautiful country has been rent by civil war for the past three and one-half years. Groups that were spurred on by the "Arab Spring" in neighboring parts of the Middle East began what has become known as the "Syrian Uprising" in March of 2011. A number of organizations have made it known that they wish to overthrow the central government of President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. In attempting to accomplish their goals, these groups have destroyed and desecrated the Syria of our ancestors before our eyes.

More than one hundred thousand have been killed, and over two million have been displaced from their homes, fleeing to overcrowded refugee camps in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. For those left behind, numbering over four million, basic amenities are non-existent. Nearly one-half of the country's hospitals are closed, and the majority of health care workers have fled. Clean water and daily food supplies are scarce.

In the midst of this turmoil are the children – too young to understand, but old enough to be in fear of their lives. According to a news report in an August 2013 edition of The Los Angeles Times, over one million Syrian children are refugees and over four million have been displaced throughout the country. Three-quarters of the children are under eleven years of age, and thousands arrive in refugee camps without family or friends. A report via the United Nations Refugee Agency in August also noted that "even after [the children] have crossed the border to safety, they are traumatized [and] depressed." The children are "destitute and totally unsettled in their unfamiliar surroundings." Those who are able to make it to refugee camps and orphanages are dehydrated and malnourished, having survived on nuts, leaves and dirty water throughout their journey.

Even more unsettling are recent reports of the living conditions in the refugee camps. Cases of cholera, measles, and polio – a disease that was thought to have been eradicated – have been diagnosed. "Homes" are makeshift tents housing anywhere from eight to ten people. The rodent population in the camps sometimes outnumbers the human beings who are living there. A recent report from the United Nations reported widespread organized crime, substandard living conditions and recruitment of children to the rebel armies. Also, as winter approaches, there is the fear that many of the refugees – especially the children – will be unable to survive without heat
or clean water.

This then is the Antiochian Women's Project for 2014, as presented to us by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip: "Help the Orphans of War in Syria." Women are known to be nurturers. Christians are called by Christ to show love to our neighbor. In light of this, we must move forward to help those who need the greatest assistance. We must not allow a generation of children to go without food, shelter, or clothing. We must act now before it is too late. Our goal is to raise $200,000!

We urge you to work with your local Antiochian Women's chapters in your local church or mission. More information can be found via our website at Parishes should send their contributions to their Diocesan Antiochian Women's Treasurer no later than May 1, 2014, with the Diocesan Treasurer forwarding monies by May 15, 2014, to the North American Board's Treasurer, Anne Bourjaily-Thomas, 590 Solon Road, Chagrin Falls, Ohio 44022.

When asked by His disciples who was the "greatest in the kingdom of heaven," our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ called a little child to Him and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you ... become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:1–5).

The conclusion of the Kontakion of the Feast of the Nativity reads that, "since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child...." We as Orthodox Christians must go forth and save the orphans of Syria as God himself saved mankind.

Dianne O'Regan, Vice President/Project Coordinator
North American Board of the Antiochian Women
Member, St. Michael's Church, Louisville, Kentucky