Ecumenical representatives attended a memorial service for the late Patriarch of Antioch, His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, held at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of St. Thomas in Acton, West London. His Eminence Archbishop Mar Athanasius Toma Dawod, presided, assisted by the priests and deacons of his diocese. Among the speakers were His Grace Bishop Vahan, Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Great Britain & Ireland and President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches. Abba Seraphim, Father Peter Farrington, Deacon Daniel Malyon and Subdeacon Trevor-James Maskery attended from the British Orthodox clergy in London. Archbishop Athanasius warmly welcomed all those who attended and spoke lovingly of the late Patriarch, like many, recalling with affection, his presence at the Cathedral in Acton when he consecrated it in July 2010.
Photos of the event can be found on the BOC Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishorthodox/sets/72157643526552524/
In two disturbing Press Communiqué issued by the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo we learn how the civil war in Syria is impinging on the daily life of the Christian community. Throughout these difficult times the clergy remain to minister to their flocks and to provide practical support to all people, regardless of their religious and ethnic affiliations. In the midst of such devastation they continue to call for restraint and peace
On Friday 19 October 2012 the Syrian Orthodox School (Bani Taghlub I), which is adjacent to the Archbishopric in the Sulimania District of Aleppo, sustained a direct hit on its third floor (where the kindergarten is located), by what appeared to be a home-made mortar. Providentially, as Friday is a holiday in Syria there were no injuries or fatalities apart from the damage to the third floor and the childrens’ play area. The source was unclear, “as missiles fall relentlessly and indiscriminately, day and night over all residential districts of Aleppo”.
Bani Taghlub has 550 pupils, but due to the current situation and migration from the city, the school administration expects to only have about 50 students attending school this year. It was also about to celebrate its centenary and discussions had already taken place about this. The governor and the administration assessed the damages and decided that business should run as usual, and that such incidents should not deprive the young children from their basic right to education. The school will be able resume its usual schedule at the beginning of November, as the necessary repair work is already under way.
Two days later, on Sunday 21 October 2012, a suicidal booby-trapped car exploded early in the morning in the main roundabout of the New Syriac district. It left huge craters and a considerable amount of damage to the Bet Hasada’ Complex, a Syrian Orthodox charitable endowment, which includes an elderly Home, al-Kalima Grammar School and a Hospital. Thanks be to God, the damages sustained were only material and no precious lives were lost. Naturally, the fear, traumatisation and horror this explosion imposed on the vulnerable elderly, recovering injured, convalescing patients, and dedicated, overstretched medical staff of these institutions are incalculable.
The Communiqué concluded, “We unreservedly condemn and deprecate the escalation of these armed manifestations, and all kinds of shelling and explosions that can only lead entrenched combatant brothers deeper into this vicious circle of violence, devastation and death.We also condemn and deplore the continuation of kidnapping, killings, demolition of infrastructure, heritages and the attrition activities aimed at the crippling of the local and national economy.
The status quo of this conflict is apparent and demoralizing as it can only spiral to propagate the culture of anarchy, resentment and disunity, in a city which has never knowingly sustained such level of violence, destruction and decimation in its history. Until recently, we only knew affection, tolerance and a healthy co-existence of the people in our blessed city. It is heartbreaking to helplessly witness our beloved Aleppo and other Syrian cities, villages and hamlets becoming battlefields and their systematic obliteration. No one can raise the flag of victory over the heaps of such ruins and sacrilege.
Therefore, we wholeheartedly call on all to join us in prayer in support of all internal and external efforts and endeavours to achieve a lasting Cease-fire. To pray for peace and re-consolidate our shaken pillars of harmony and trust, and to hold love, security and national unity as holy aims of our Syrian solidarity.”
On Monday, 27 September, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Rowan Williams) opened an exhibition of photographs of Tur Abdin by the Italian photo-journalist, Giulio Paletta.
Tur Abdin in south-east Turkey has been the home of Syriac Christians since the ealy days of the church and these villages were once the flourishing centre of a great Christian culture, which suffered during the unsettled years which marked the fall of the Ottoman Empie and the persecution faced by ethnic minorities. In more recent times the Syriac Christians were caught up in the violence of Kurdish separatism and a population of some 20,00 had fallen to a mere 2,000 by 1995. Today the ancient monastery of Mor Gabriel stands as the centre of Syriac culture in this area but is under threat from predators who lay claim to ancient monastic lands.
This exhibition was organised by the Tur Abdin Focus Group to raise awareness of the Christians of Tur Abdin and to show concern and support for the problems they are facing. In welcoming the Archbishop, the Bishop of Woolwich (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), who is the chairman of the Group, read out letters of greeting and appreciation from Archbishop Samuel Aktas of Tur Abdin as well as H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka I, the Patriarch of Antioch. Dr. Williams spoke movingly of the invaluable spiritual tradition embodied in the Tur Abdin community and of its spiritual and cultural value to the wider community.
The opening was well supported and attended both by His Excellency the Syrian Ambassador and representatives of the Turkish Embassy and covered by both Turkish and Syriac media including Suroyo TV, Suroyo SAT and Hurriyet. Metropolitan Mor Polycarpos Aydin, Patriarchal Vicar in the Netherlands, represented the Patriarch of Antioch. Abba Seraphim, attended as a member of the Tur Abdin Focus Group, and represents the Council of Oriental Orthodox Chuerches in the United Kingdom.
The photographs are not merely of churches and liturgical ceremonies but contain some very striking images of the simple rural life of the Suriani and personal portraiture which highlight the vitality and uniqueness of this community. The exhibition can be viewed at Southwark Cathedral until 18 October after which it will be moved to Chichester Cathedral and travel to other centres.