I have been sent the letter below through one of my academic mailing lists and I thought it worth reproducing here. Whether prayer and fasting is your kind of thing or not, I think this letter is something worth reading, considering the horrific consequences of the ongoing war. Western media have largely supplanted serious reporting about the civil war in Syria in favour of a fixation on “ISIS” – whilst I understand the reasoning behind this, let us not forget that Assad has killed many more people than ISIS, and, as Jill Kestler-D’Amours (Do follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours) points out in this article that primarily highlights electricity problems: “Four years later, the conflict appears far from abating, and its impact on ordinary citizens is widespread: 3.3 million Syrians have become refugees, at least 7.6 million others have been internally displaced, and 210,000 people have been killed, according to recent estimates.”
Chilling Syrian numbers: 83% of electricity cut, life expectancy drops 20 years
Here is Patriarch Gregorios III’s letter:
Appeal of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III
For a World Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria
15-16 March 2015
“Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17: 21)
This fast is the Fast of Great Lent prior to the Resurrection: a fast that prepares the faithful to celebrate the glorious Feast of the Resurrection. Lent is a way of the cross, and we are in the fifth year of the way of the cross of our Arab countries, especially in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but also in Lebanon, which is influenced in a dramatic way by the wars that have flared up around it. Today, Lebanon has received at various stages and been hosting refugees and displaced persons from Palestine, dating back to 1949, and from Iraq several times from 2003 onwards and from Syria since 2011. Our countries’ Golgotha is very great: the greatest tragedy of the region’s territories and even of the world since the Second World War. As bishops, our role is to be with our people, alongside our people, before our people, behind our people and in the service of our people. We want to wash the feet of those who suffer, as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Yet we ask forgiveness from our faithful, because, despite our efforts, we are unable really to meet all their needs which are increasing on a daily basis. We are at a loss before the great pain and great suffering of our people in all its Christian and Muslim communities. This is tragedy and suffering on a global scale, which affects everyone. All have been affected by poverty, hunger, cold, lack of clothing, illness, sufferings and disability. The great majority of our faithful suffer from all that, especially in Syria. All are equal now in this kind of suffering. And as we said, this is the case also for all Arab countries, especially, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, and also Libya, Egypt and the Yemen.
We notice with great sadness that many of our faithful are leaving or going away, in various ways, both legal and illegal. How many stories we have heard of their suffering in this flight! Some are going away and leaving the country for good reasons, others, so to speak, without pressing reasons. We urge everyone to stay, to be patient, strong, always to hope and to hang on to hope, faith and trust in God’s will. We can never oblige anyone to stay: but it is a personal decision and is up to each person’s or family’s responsibility.
But we, as pastors are staying with all those who are staying, and are serving them whole-heartedly and with all our strength. We are making continuous efforts to help everyone, by all means at our disposal, of communication, travel, correspondence, reports, congresses etc. We thank all those who help us in this difficult task: local and international, civic or religious, Christian or Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran institutes and others.
Pope Francis speaks to us in our difficulties
We thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, especially for his prayers, his concern, his appeals, his speeches and also for his material assistance through the Roman dicasteries and the various organisations related to the Vatican. In particular, we should like to thank him for his special letter that he addressed to the Christians of the Middle East for the occasion of the Feast of the Nativity and the civil New Year, and we have the pleasure of mentioning here passages which are very beautiful and significant for us and for all our fellow-citizens.
“I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches. It is the ecumenism of blood!
“Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough.
“The greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. Thank you for your perseverance!
“Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:3-12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities.
“The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission. We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal.
“You are not alone. I do hope to have the chance to come to you in person and to visit and to comfort you.”
Suffering a school of faith
We say all this in the hope of strengthening the faith of our children. Besides, we hear the witness of many of our faithful who tell us about their faith, resistance and experience of God’s protection, and that He protects and preserves all citizens from many disasters. We as bishops, feel that we are being taught by the faith of our faithful.
We thank God for all that, just as we are also rejoicing over the return of some faithful, some citizens to their towns: so for example, at Ma’alula, at Qusayr, some districts of Homs and elsewhere. We are also happy to see and learn that there are now building yards open to begin rebuilding homes and churches at Ma’alula, Nabk, Homs and Yabrud. We are also glad about the compensation given by the State and for the aid of our faithful and we also thank all the international institutions and our friends who are helping us in this direction.
The flame of hope
We turn to all our children and all fellow-citizens, as we did in our previous letters with the Holy Father, Pope Francis who said, “Do not let the flame of hope be extinguished in your hearts.” We launched the initiative, “The flame of hope for peace in Syria” at Christmas time. We again ask everyone to light this flame daily in their homes and hearts, in their souls and feelings. May it be a real inextinguishable light (despite the occasional lack of electricity or gas or oil!) to lighten the way for all citizens.
Fear not! I love you!
I should like to mention some verses from the prophecies of Isaiah, in which we find great consolation and a strong dose of fortitude, of which we have great need:
“I the Lord will hold thine hand, and will keep thee. Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.. every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory; I have formed him; yea, I have made him..” (Isaiah 42: 6, 43: 5a, 7)
Appeal for a World Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria 15-16 March 2015
From the very depths of our suffering and pain in Syria we cry out with our suffering people, who are walking on the bloody way of the cross, and appeal to the whole world: Enough! Enough! Enough of war on Syria!
We believe in the power of the prayer and fasting in this Great Lent, and we call for a day of solidarity with Syria, a day of fasting and prayer for hope and peace in Syria.
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem