Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Interview with a Syrian Orthodox Priest

This just in from Deacon Giorgi Maximov, one of Russia's most insightful writers on the threat of Islam, and on Orthodox missionary work to Muslims. Fr. Dcn Giorgi was also a close friend and co-laborer of New Priest-Martyr Daniil Sysoev.

What this priest describes below is deliberate religious cleansing of Christians from Syria by Muslims, and we might even dare to call it genocide.

ON SYRIA, JIHAD, AND KIDNAPPED METROPOLITAN PAUL. AN INTERVIEW WITH AN ORTHODOX PRIEST FROM SYRIA offers this brief conversation with an Orthodox Syrian, Hieromonk N. from the Antiochian Patriarchate, dedicated to the very difficult situation of Christians in Syria today. The editors have chosen not to provide the priest’s name in order to protect him and his close ones from danger.

—Father, tell us please about the modern position of Orthodox Christians in Syria.

—We are experiencing more persecutions from Moslems. Moslems from 29 different countries have now come to Syria in order to participate in jihad, and they receive a lot of money from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries. These visiting Moslems, together with some local Syrian Moslems, are conducting military acts, terrorist acts, and other acts of violence against the peaceful population.

Within the framework of their declared “holy” war, they torture and kill Orthodox priests; they gouge out their eyes, break their bones, and cut out their organs, as they did with Fr. Thaddei Al-Haddad. They abduct priests, bishops, Christian women, and young men, and no one knows where these people are and what is happening to them. Some were abducted over a year ago, and we still do not know their fate. Some have had their homes taken away from them, while others’ home were destroyed during the fighting. In the past months, every day brings us new tragedies. For example, yesterday a whole bus full of women and children was abducted. The leaders of these fighters openly call Moslems to kill priest and monks, to destroy crosses, and to leave nothing intact. They have destroyed many churches and monasteries—a missile was even fired at our Metropolia building. The persecutions touch not only Orthodox Christians, but also Christians of other confessions. Many Christians live in fear for their children. Those who are able leave the country, but these are mainly people who have relatives in other countries, and who have enough money to leave.

There are whole populated areas that have been completely taken over by insurgents. They are ruled by newly-appeared emirs, and those Christians who were not able to flee these places are obligated to pay jizya—a special tax that allows them to remain Christians, and Christian women must hide their faces like Moslem women. If they don’t pay the jizya they are simply killed. It would not be good if all Christians were to leave Syria, because then the Church would disappear here. But those who stay risk their lives and the lives of their children. Therefore the Church finds itself in a very complicated position. Prayer is our only support. After all, everything is in God’s hands.

Syrian insergent with 'trophies': a priest's blessing cross
and epitrachelion from a desecrated church.

—Tell us please about Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo, who was kidnapped by insurgents.

—A month and ten days have passed since his Eminence was abducted, and we still do not know what has happened to him. We would like to know if he is alive, but we cannot even establish that. Met. Paul is my spiritual father—I have been confessing to him for twenty-two years. He is truly a man of God, filled with love for God, and living for the sake of the Church. He is one of the main fathers-confessor of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. His Eminence became a monk on Mt. Athos and labored there in monasticism, and later, when he was chosen and consecrated bishop, he did not in the least abandon his monastic rule. He reads his cell rule every night, rises early, and in general upholds a monastic way of life in everything. Met. Paul founded a monastic brotherhood; there are twenty of us, and one of our brothers is now the Metropolitan of Argentina. His Eminence also built a monastery for women where there are about twenty sisters, and he also has more than 1500 spiritual children all over the world. Metropolitan Paul is a very modest person, who talks little, and that only when truly needed. For me he is a true example of a bishop and a monk. He never got involved in political issues, was always occupied only with spiritual life, and taught others to pray. Not long before his abduction we were walking together in the city. I asked him, “Geronda, why do you go by foot? It is dangerous—after all, many have been kidnapped already.” But he answered, “Martyrdom is the only sinless path.” And now I don’t know what has happened to him—whether or not he has become a martyr. We do not know who to ask, where to turn, or what to do.

Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo

—In your opinion, how might events in Syria further unfold?

—It is difficult to guess because there are very many different sides to this conflict; it is not a war between two countries of the classic type. But I can say one thing: if Russia had not supported us, we would have lost Syria a long time ago. The only thing that Syrian Christians can do now is pray. What is important is not who will die sooner and who will die later, but where our souls will go after death. Death is very close to each of us now. For example, not long ago we were driving down a street and the driver wanted to turn into a certain side street, but at the last minute I said, “Let’s turn on the next street.” We had driven only a little further when a bomb exploded in that very side street where we did not turn. The Lord guards us, and the day will come when He will call into account those who are now killing, slashing, and robbing.

—In Russia, donations and humanitarian aid was collected for those who have suffered during the military opposition in Syria. Is there some way we can further help the Orthodox Syrians?

—Perhaps you could temporarily shelter some of the women and children who are currently in danger. In fact Christians do not want to abandon their homes and native regions, but there are times when this is simply necessary in order to save people’s lives.

But the most important thing is—pray for us!

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