Stories On Syria
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) marks World Refugee Day in remembrance of the sacrifices made by refugee families all over the world.
June 19, 2013
Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — When violent clashes suddenly erupted in his Aleppo neighborhood, Faruk, 33, his pregnant wife, Mona, and their three children left their home in Syria and the only life they had ever known to make the exhausting, 160-mile trek to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Arriving safe but penniless and alone in a foreign land, the former construction worker fashioned a small shelter out of scavenged scrap metal for his family. The long and difficult journey made Mona seriously ill. Faruk took her to several hospitals in search of help, only to be turned away from each one because he couldn't pay for her care.
With his wife's life at stake, he pleaded with strangers for any help they could give and eventually scraped together enough money to cover the hospital fees. Mona gave birth to a little girl, but the long journey and harsh living conditions in their makeshift home took their toll on her weakened body and she passed away four days later. A devastated Faruk, who left Syria out of fear for the safety of his family, was now a widower filled with a new fear – how to care for a newborn and three more children with no means to support them.
Letter sent to President Obama
June 11, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write you as leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA, an organization comprised of 43 denominations and organizations representing the full spectrum of Christian faith - Catholic, historic Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal, Orthodox, and Historic Black churches. We wish to share with you our deepest concern over the kidnapping of two prominent archbishops in Syria, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi of Aleppo and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo. As you know, they have been missing since April 22, and the driver of their car, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was killed.
The members of our churches and organizations deeply lament the ongoing and horrible tragedy in Syria, with the deaths of tens of thousands, the displacement of millions, and the bitter sectarian hostility which seems to grow daily. Our prayers for comfort are with all who suffer, and our prayers for wisdom and courage are with all who are working for peace.
But we are addressing you in particular about the fate of these two courageous and well-loved Archbishops in Syria because of what they mean to the Christian community in that country and around the world. While we understand that there may be limitations on what the U.S. government can do directly to secure their release, we also know that the U. S. and its allies have considerable influence with a number of governments and factions on the ground who could make a difference in the fate of these two kidnapped church leaders. The fact that they were traveling on a humanitarian mission makes this matter all the more tragic and horrific.
May 29, 2013
A World Council of Churches (WCC) conference, “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East,” has issued a joint statement calling churches and ecumenical actors to commit themselves to support one another in prayers and actions to support the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East. The statement was an outcome of discussions engaging representatives of the ecumenical organizations in the Arab world. Held at the Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery, the conference included patriarchs, heads of churches, and representatives of every Christian church in the Middle East, along with Christian churches and organizations from 34 countries.
In this context, the statement called the churches to “continue to be involved in the building of democratic civil societies, based on the rule of law, social justice and respect for human rights, including religious freedom....this is a time for action, for a new vision of Christian cooperation in the region, for recommitment to Christian Muslim engagement, for engagement with Jewish partners also working for peace and justice, expressing our Christian vocations by working together to express mutual support and solidarity.” The full text is available here.
Your All Holiness and Beatitude, Patriarch of Constantinople - the New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, Most Beloved Brother in Christ our God and our Concelebrant, Kyrios Kyrios Bartholomew.
We embrace you with joy and address your All Holiness with brotherly love, together with the Metropolitans, Bishops and the respectful clergy and the people.
Christ is risen!
I come to you today from Antioch where the followers of our Lord were first called Christians; from Antioch which gathered under her wings men whose faith and stature were acknowledged by all Christians; from Antioch in which the chiefs of the apostles, Peter and Paul, preached, together with St. Ignatius of Antioch, the martyr who enriched the universal Church with his theology rooted in the Gospel of St. John; from Antioch where St. John Chrysostom started his mission and carried a spiritual heritage to Constantinople where some of his relics were brought back to this Church after they were taken away by the Franks; from Antioch in which flourished St. Ephrem and St. Isaac the Syrian who Christianised Syrian thought and left to the world the best of what could be written in spirituality and asceticism.
Charles Ajalat writes on May 13:
The following needs just a minute or two of your time to help obtain the release of the two bishops who were kidnapped three weeks ago in Syria while on a humanitarian mission. One of the bishops is Metropolitan Paul (Yazigi), brother of our Antiochian Patriarch, John X. The other is the Syriac Archbishop Youhanna (Ibrahim). Six prominent members of Congress are already spearheading this effort, and yesterday sent a Dear Colleague letter to their remaining 429 colleagues to join as co-signers of the letter they are sending to the Secretary of State later this week (with a copy to Ambassador Ford), asking the Representatives to commit to their signing by this Friday noon. I have been working with the Congressional Representatives and they have asked me to contact you for needed help.
Republished May 10: The Archdiocese encourages all of her members to show their continuing support for kidnapped archbishops Paul and John of Aleppo, first and foremost through heartfelt prayer. We also encourage people to sign and promote the online petition available here at the website of the White House, calling for United States government action on behalf of the abducted metropolitans. Please use the petition at this link.
Support and attention for Archbishop Paul and Archbishop John continues to grow. The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published their joint letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry here. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has published Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's call for the release of the archbishops. The Russian Orthodox Church has published several statements, including the patriarchal message from Patriarch Kirill to Patriarch John X available here, along with the list of documents available below. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church prayed for the release of the metropolitans, as announced here. The Archdiocese is grateful for these and all other ongoing efforts for the sake of Archbishop Paul and Archbishop John, and all our brothers and sisters suffering in the region.
Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — The leader of one of the largest humanitarian efforts in Syria has been named 2013 Humanitarian of the Year by InterAction, an alliance of more than 180 U.S.-based international relief organizations. Samer Laham is a driving force inside Syria, providing vital humanitarian assistance to those in need without regard to religious, ethnic, or political affiliations. Under Laham's leadership of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA) based in Damascus, Syria, GOPA has worked tirelessly to provide more than $31 million in emergency aid to displaced Syrians as well as ongoing assistance to Iraqi refugees, including educational support, vocational training, small business development, and crisis counseling.
With the outbreak of violence in Syria that has inflicted hardship on millions of its citizens, Laham has courageously led his staff of 120 to provide food, medical supplies, crisis counseling, and other services essential to survival for people in need across the country. In the face of bombardments, fighting and constant fear, Mr. Laham and his staff have persevered to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 300,000 vulnerable Syrian children, families and elderly.
The Patriarchate of Antioch has released the following Paschal Letter in a range of languages. Please see the attached PDF files at the end of the letter for the greeting in other languages. Christ is risen!
Paschal Letter 2013
With the Mercy of God John Xth Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
To all our beloved in the Lord the children of the Antiochian See, clergy and laypersons,
On the great day of Resurrection, on which Christ rose and raised us with Him, it pleases me to remember with you the meanings of Resurrection and to explain some of its aspects.
The resurrection of the Lord is the resurrection of each one of us. In the resurrection the power of the devil, our enemy, was brought to naught. Although death terrifies human beings, yet the Lord Jesus has defeated it with his life-giving resurrection. He descended in His death to the abode of death, that is, to Hades, and exploded it from within, abolishing its effects. It is true that death is still there, however it has become a mere passage to true life, a complete liberation from temporal things and a way to eternity. Resurrection gave us grace instead of sin, immortality instead of corruption, life instead of death. The rule of the evil one is gone and the kingdom of God has appeared. Darkness gives way to light.
It was a holy and historic day in Beirut. More than 1,000 hierarchs, clergy and lay people packed the incense-filled nave of Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral on February 17, 2013, including both the President and Prime Minister of Lebanon, as well as government officials from the U.S., Russia, and other countries around the world.
Joining them were International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Board Chairman, Michael “Mickey” Homsey, and IOCC Executive Director, Constantine Triantafilou, who had both traveled from the United States to attend at the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. All were there to witness the same milestone, the first Divine Liturgy served by His Beatitude, John X, the newly elected Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
His predecessor, Patriarch Ignatius of Blessed Memory, spent more than three decades serving as the spiritual father of the Orthodox faithful in Syria. Patriarch Ignatius’ leadership provided a wellspring of inspiration and comfort to Orthodox Christians throughout the Middle East, especially during troubled times. Without His Beatitude’s grateful assistance, IOCC's humanitarian efforts in the region would not have been fully realized.
Both Homsey and Triantafilou had met with Patriarch Ignatius during a visit to Syria last year shortly before his repose, during which they were humbled to receive His Beatitude’s blessing for IOCC’s ongoing humanitarian work in Syria, and his praise for the organization serving as a beacon of hope for so many struggling families.
The following official joint statement has been released by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. (Original PDF here.)
On Monday the 22.04.2013, we were surprised by the news that our brothers Bishop Paul (Yazigi) of Aleppo and Alexandretta and Bishop John (Ibrahim) Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Aleppo, have been kidnapped on their way back to Aleppo after accomplishing a humanitarian mission. We deeply regret what happened as we regret all similar acts targeting civilians, regardless of their belonging and therefore we address to the local and international communities the following declaration:
1- The Christians living here are an essential part of their lands. They suffer the pain every person suffers, work as messengers of peace to lift the injustice off every oppressed: They follow the teaching of their Gospel telling them that love is the basis of human relations. The official positions issued by the spiritual leaders of the various churches, are the best expression in this respect and the mission fulfilled by the two kidnapped bishops is but a further proof of this orientation.