We are not born to be refugees in foreign lands.…
Speech of His Beatitude John X
25 July 2015, USA
His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph,
Your Eminences, Graces,
Distinguished Members of the Convention,
It is with deep joy and pride that I address the Convention of our Antiochian Orthodox Christianity congregation in North America and Canada. This Convention, given prominence by the Thrice Blessed Memory Metropolitan Philip, is carried forth with distinction by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph. We are fortunate to have His Eminence lead this congregation at this important phase in the history of our Church. This congregation assumes the distinctive role of living in a superpower of great influence in the world. This position carries with it a special responsibility, at a very special time.
I address you at a critical moment in the history of our Church. For the past four years, the Arab East, al-Mashriq al-Arabi has been in the midst of a political earthquake of historic proportions. Not since medieval times have such destruction, killing, persecution, and dislocation been witnessed by our society.
A wave of religious extremism has taken over the region, reversed civic democratic trends, shattered established society, and reconfigured national frontiers in total disregard of established legal and constitutional systems.
While the conflict is inflicting terror on all, a major victim of this conflict is the Christian Community in Syria and Iraq and in a special category in Lebanon as well. There were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq early in this century. Only a few of them remain, internally displaced, seeking shelter for themselves and their families. In Syria, there were over 2 million Christians before the crisis in 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled, and many are internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands of our Orthodox flock are scattered in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan. Others are scrambling at embassies for exit. Hundreds of our people were killed. Dozens of our churches were looted and destroyed. Thousands upon thousands of our icons and manuscripts are burnt, or are being sold in the open market. Our region is in trouble, and on the verge of despair, but we as Orthodox Christians are not in despair. Inspite of our suffering, we are determined to stay on our land, we are vigilant, we know our way in the future. We have a great role to play in healing wounds and rebuilding institutions.
We have Metropolitans and priests who had been kidnapped for more than two years now, within a suspicious and shameful International silence. They are the Metropolitans of Aleppo Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazji. We have priests, monks, nuns, people and martyrs their only crime is that they hold the entity of Christianity.
We are in our land because we were always there. We are the first Christians, the authentic and faithful followers, who knew Jesus Christ and walked with him.
For two thousand years, we have been emissaries of the faith of love, emissaries, working with our Muslim brethren in the development of a civilization that became in time the world civilization. We were a ferment then in the 7th to 14th centuries as we are a ferment now since the dawn of the 19th century. Since then we have been again in the foreground advancing the ideas of modernity, civic order, and constitutional government. We were there building universities, schools, and hospitals, serving our society with total disregard to religious or racial affiliation. We are still there doing just that.
All of a sudden we find ourselves in a dark tunnel squeezed from right and left in all directions, in the midst of conflict in Iraq and Syria, wars that flow their frontiers into our beloved Lebanon.
I am with you this evening to sound the alarm for what is happening in the very land that our savior rendered holy and its surrounding region, and to seek your support in reversing the tide of bloodshed and destruction.
We have problems for sure, but we are determined to resolve them. The Patriarchate is rapidly becoming an institution with a strong media and technological arm. We have a hospital in Beirut amongst the best in the region. We are building an urgently needed hospital in Balamand, which we envision to be the best between Byblos and Istanbul. We are also building new sectors in Al-Hosn hospital in the Christian valley in Syria.
In a quarter of a century we built at Balamand a University of international fame. Although it was founded in 1988, it is classified with the best three private universities in Lebanon that were founded a century and a half before. In a quarter of a century, we bridged a century and a half. Such is our resolve.
We are working with Metropolitan Joseph to offer a Ph.D. degree in Orthodox Theology in the United States. By the Grace of God, our Orthodoxy is spreading in the United States as it is in Britain, and we welcome our new converts. They are an indispensable part of the future of our Church. In all these endeavors we welcome close association with the universities, research centers, and think tanks in the United States and Canada.
We understand America’s concern for its commercial interests and its strategic interests in the region, but the United States must always keep its eye on its own highest standard. The Founders of the American Republic had higher goals. They had a civilized order in mind, based on ethical tradition, on freedom, on religious tolerance and on equality of all men before the One Creator. Were the U.S. to ignore this dimension in its foreign policy, it will no longer have the right to claim its leadership role in the world order.
I ask the above, not only in the interest of my suffering people in the Arab East, but also in your higher interests as citizens of the United States and Canada. A moral imperative binds humanity irrespective of race, place, and time, and this imperative is our burden as leaders who care and plan. I know your love to the Church in its homeground, and I know how you feel about the dangers that face it.
While decision-makers may ponder what they should or should not do in our region, I have few humble, yet immediate and urgent concerns. I shall share them with you as we think together in this Convention. I need your counsel on how to approach your government, your foundations, your relevant civic organizations, and the appropriate U.N. organizations to meet our urgent humanitarian needs. We have immense needs. These needs involve immense efforts. We are together in this noble mission of salvaging Christianity in al-Mashriq and ensuring its hitherto leading cultural role in the region. We need aid to support refugees. We need aid to rebuild schools that were destroyed. We need aid to salvage a generation of young men and women who have lost years of school and college education. We need to help people to stay on their land, to rebuild their houses, and to plant their crops. We have projects on institution building, on helping refugees, and we need to prepare more such projects in the immediate future.
We are not born to be refugees in foreign lands. We are not prepared for humiliation. We do not cherish the sight of our brothers and sisters swarming foreign embassies for exit visas. Like you in the United States, we are strong people, industrious, proud, and avid achievers. Forces greater than us are boxing us from all directions. If the region is in despair, we the leaders of the Christian community and our people in al-Mashriq al-Arabi are not in despair.
In spite of our suffering, our will is strong, our determination is absolute. We are staying in our land and we shall play a leading role in the future of the region. And for that we will always need your help. We need the help of the United States, and other friends and powers around the world, to open up the channels of dialogue, to silence the drums of war, and to give our people a chance at a renewed future.
Brothers and sisters, we share a common destiny, a destiny as people of faith and humanity. Acts undertaken in the East will affect the West; and decisions taken in the West will affect the East.
Let us put our heads and hearts together, and act urgently to reverse the slide into genocide and mass slaughter; let us work together to rebuild the pillars of religious coexistence and our common humanity. Dialogue, coexistence, and cultural progress have been our guideposts in the past. They will continue to be so at present and in the future. The birthplace of the World’s Great Religions is falling apart. It cries out for help, not only because it needs it, it deserves it.
I am addressing you from the heart with a clear message. We need to work with you in the context of your extensive contacts, organizational skills, and economic power to help our people realize their commitment to their own land, on their own terms.
In conclusion, we raise our prayers for the peace in all the Middle East. We pray for the peace in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and in all the region.
Thank you for the privilege of being with you, and may the Lord bless you and keep you as a great resource for all that is good and just, in your country, in our own region and in the world.