As we spoke to our contacts in Gaza Sunday afternoon (10/15/2023), we could hear the squealing of rockets and the percussive impacts of bombs going off all around them, every few seconds. The bombardment started in the middle of the night, at 10:00 PM local time in Gaza, while innocent civilians were sleeping. It has not let up at all. We can hear the sounds of children crying, as adults, who are terrified themselves, try to give them comfort.
Our first contact, who wishes to remain anonymous as he fears for his safety, had to quickly end the call to seek a safer shelter, though, he tells us, there is no such thing as a safe shelter in Gaza tonight. No one there is sure if a bomb will land on them within their shelter. The bombing is relentless and is focused on residential areas, stores, and health facilities. Whether this is intentional or not, no one is certain, but the bombardment is ongoing and extreme. Our anonymous contact reports that “the [Israeli Defense Forces] are indiscriminately dropping bombs.” His Eminence, Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, who is in Gaza, told the Order on Sunday during a phone call that “[the IDF] are bombing the streets to weaken the foundations of housing developments so that the buildings will collapse.” People in desperate need of food and water are afraid to go out in search of what limited provisions still exist in Gaza for fear of bombs and collapsing buildings. Nowhere is safe, not even their homes and churches amidst what His Eminence calls “absolute, widespread devastation.”
Many of those seeking refuge within Gaza have turned to St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church in the heart of the war zone in Gaza. St. Porphyrios is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and the third-oldest church, built in the 3rd Century by St. Porphyrios of Gaza. The church is currently providing shelter, food, and activities for 500 people. Archbishop Alexios says that around 95% are Orthodox Christians – just over 40% of the Christian population of Gaza. The other 5% are comprised of other citizens of Gaza. His Eminence has opened the doors of the church to anyone in need of shelter in Gaza. He will not turn anyone away, as, he says, “We are all children of the Lord, and the church is a refuge for anyone in need.”
The church has a generator, but they are quickly running out of fuel to keep it running. They are running out of everything: Food, water, medical supplies, and fuel. People are sleeping on chairs, pews, and the ground because there are no mattresses available. The local mattress store and factory were destroyed by bombs. Children need toys. Many of the elderly have medical conditions and need treatment and medication. Yet, they are blockaded into the city that is being destroyed around them. Food, water, electricity, medicine, fuel, and even money are not being allowed in. His Eminence does not know how long their limited provisions will last. “It could be ten days. It could be more. It could be much less, depending on how many more people come.”
At least 10% of the Christian population of Gaza have lost their homes so far. We have no reports on the roughly 60% of the community that is not currently seeking shelter at St. Porphyrios. We may not know the extent of the loss of life and property until this war ends. As we cannot get supplies or money to our suffering brothers and sisters yet, Archbishop Alexios tells us that the real need will be after the war, the worst he has ever seen in his quarter-century in Gaza, as his flock will need help rebuilding their homes. “This is our homeland,” he tells us. “We will not abandon it. Our fate is with Christ, and we accept whatever outcome He allows, whether we live or die.”
Translating for the Order and His Eminence, a Palestinian clergyman said to Archbishop Alexios, “You are like Christ in the wilderness, with your people coming to you for sustenance, literally dividing the loaves to feed your people.” His Eminence replied, “I am not Christ. I am not a miracle worker. It is Christ Who sustains us!” This is the hope that they have, and it is all they have. There are no NGOs, nonprofits, or even government officials left in Gaza, except the Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George the Great Martyr, which was finally able to connect with His Eminence on Sunday. None of the NGOs that were there were concerned with the Christians of Gaza. No news media has addressed the plight of the Christians of Gaza. His Eminence was feeling “alone and abandoned” by everyone but Christ. He told the Order that we are “the Light of Christ in Gaza.” In a very real way, we are all they have. His Eminence told the Order, “We are suffering. We need help, and there is no one coming to help us.” The Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George is with them and is preparing to help them. We are the voice for the voiceless, as they are cut off from the world by the war and the blockades.
The Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George was established primarily to give aid to Christians in the Holy Land and the Greater Middle East. At no time has this been a more pressing and urgent mission. As of October 14, we have established a monetary campaign to allow us to give as much aid to these suffering servants of God as we can. Our preliminary goal, which we hope to meet by the end of November, is $1 millon. This is just a preliminary goal. It will barely make a dent in what these families need. We are urging all of our members to contribute, and we are asking the public to help as well. We would like to reach out to every Orthodox parish in the United States at a minimum, and welcome assistance from other churches, businesses, and organizations as well.
The Grand Knight, Konstantine Pandolfi, head of the Order of Saint George, had the following message on Monday: No time has been so great or important than now to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in Gaza. If you are truly a member of the Order of Saint George the Great Martyr please donate. Let your monetary donation speak to our cause and to what we stand for as an Orthodox Christian Order of knighthood. We are a “lifeline to the Christians in Gaza.” Even if you are not a member of the Order, please consider giving a monetary donation to support the oldest Christian community in the word, for these are our people! The Orthodox Christians in Gaza and throughout the Holy Land are keeping the light of Christ alive even until today in these darkest of times.
His Eminence asks that we all keep the suffering Christians of Gaza in our prayers, “that the Lord is with us, has mercy on us, and gets us faithfully through this. Then, when this is over, we will all pray together, either here in St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church or in the eternal liturgy.”
Gaza fundraising campaign:
Link to first Press Release from the Order: https://orderofsaintgeorge.org/press-release-war-in-gaza-12th-of-oct-2023/
See all the Order’s emergency fundraisers: https://orderofsaintgeorge.org/emergency-fundraisers/