OrthoChristian.com 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.
—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.
|Syrian insurgent with "trophies"--a cross and epitrachelion from a desecrated church.|
|Syrian "insurgents".|Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo.
—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.
Aleppo, Syrian. Photo: Narciso Contreras / AP Photo
—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!