Cry from Aleppo Syria at a perilous crossroads Beloved Friends and Peacemakers,

By: Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim
Metropolitan of Aleppo
In our ecclesiastical calendar, Sunday 18th March 2012 is the fourth Sunday of Lent coincided this year with the advent of the spring equinox.
The solemn season of Lent is a time of penance, manifestation and fasting, which embraces us to the Passion and the joyful Resurrection of Christ. St. Ephrem the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in the ancient centre of Aleppo was packed with worshippers.

My sermon was on the faith of the Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:21-28).
Concerned and challenged as all church leaders are with the unfolding situations, I said to the faithful that it is apparent that, in Syria, we are facing a new tribulations that will teach us lessons in how to pray fervently.
The Canaanite woman was in desperate need of an effective cure to heal her daughter. She heard of a heavenly doctor passing by the region of Tyre and Sidon and rushed towards him and knelt in conviction that healing was at hand.
However, the Canaanite woman was not among the daughters of Ibrahim, Isaac or Jacob, she was a gentile.
Jesus who came for the lost sheep of Israel told her it was not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.
She cried “Lord but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Her faith and prayers were great and expressed effectively with few words, that moved Jesus to reply, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed immediately.

I said to the faithful: it is right time that we all turn and seek God in these perilous days, exactly as the desperate Canaanite asked fervently, “God have mercy on us”.

As we endure these dark and difficult days in Syria, the Levantine oasis, that we have long indulged in with exemplary tolerance, peace, and security.
We reflect on all our friends to pray for us and ask our Lord to have mercy on Syria and all its inhabitants. We trust that our Lord will listen to our prayers.

It was around 1pm, in a tranquil atmosphere after that Sunday mass when the dismissed Alleppian worshippers filed leisurely back home in the mainly Christian quarter of their beloved City.
At about 1pm a violent explosion, 300 meters away shattered the peaceful milieu of the Archbishopric in Aleppo, shook the city of Aleppo turning the equanimity of the city into chaos, mayhem, and carnage and the hope into despair and desolation.
Thanks be to God, I had a lucky escape, and can only count my blessings. I was in my car about 100 metres from the deafening blast. I had a black out and felt the car lifted from the ground and twist out of control. Defenseless people were frantically rushing in all directions.

All what I could hear was hysterical cries for help and terrified voices repeatedly saying: “God have mercy on us, God save us.”
As if the people in the vicinity, regardless of their background were copying the Canaanite woman crying and appealing to the son of David for help and screaming: “Son of David, have mercy on us.”

It was frightfully horrific and indescribable, may God spare you such witness.
The result was an indescribable carnage; three innocent people were immediately martyred and 30 others were hospitalized, some with serious injuries, mostly inhabitants of the Christian quarter and traumatized city.

This incident is the second of its kind in the Christian quarter of Aleppo. We are still in denial that Christians were not the intended target of those lethal blasts, it raised a spectre that neither inspires optimism nor challenges the view that terrorism which plagues Syria is geared, in part, toward the nonpartisan, defenseless and easily victimized Christian communities. The successive blasts in Damascus and Aleppo were both targeted at the Christian quarters of the cities.

We are also reminded that during the siege of the City of Homs, once a Christian stronghold and Patriarchal headquarters now is devastated, in ruins and almost deserted of its Christian inhabitants. We sustained in excess of 120 martyrs and hundreds of seriously injured people, some with permanent disabilities.
However, it is imprudent to pre-empt any conclusion.

Like the peaceful majority of Syrians, we are waiting for the results of investigations to show the true motives behind those blasts.

We, together with the peaceful majority of Syrians, abhor and reject the prevalence of sectarian language and discourse in Syria today. Compartmentalizing the fraternal co-existing communities of Syria into camps of Christian, Muslim or Sunni, Alawi, Druze and Ismailis with sectarian sentiments and religious foment that can cause serious and incalculable consequences.

Christians today in their Middle Eastern milieu are faced with two bitter and astringent dilemmas:
Firstly: Emigration that decimated well established communities, will swipe who left in their homeland. We are aware of the Iraqi case and how the annihilated community feels that their presence may no longer be tenable and it may only a matter of time.
Secondly: The tide of radical Islamism through which the voices of fundamentalists and extremists are heard, especially in Saudi Arabia. Salafists and Wahabbis pose a potential threat to the very co-existence of Christians in the Orient.
Their prevalence will hinder the witness of Churches and the evolves of culture of tolerance, peaceful and synergic co-existence, religious freedom, citizenship, pluralism, democracy and all the overdue reforms in our contemporary society.

Finally, I am writing to you to share with you our grave concerns at this unsettling juncture. We together with all peace loving citizens of Syrian, Muslims and Christians hope and pray that these dark clouds of the Arab spring will pass and spare us of all its untold consequences.

We hope that you will hold us in your prayers, and our Lord will answer our collective supplications exactly as he responded to the Canaanite woman. Please join us in asking that God will have mercy on us, God have mercy on Syria, God have mercy on all his people in the Middle East.

I wish you a Happy Lent and may God bless you and your loved ones.