SCOBA Hierarchs Alarmed By Diminishing Christian Communities in the Middle East

Thursday, August 11, 2005

We, the hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), reflecting on the continuing Middle East crisis, wish to express our concern and pain with regard to the violence and threats of violence in the Middle East.

We are aware that for various people, the land Christians call the Holy Land is simply a geography of holy places and holy sites to be visited in memory of events described in the Holy Scriptures. Often, this reverence for the holy places is not accompanied by knowledge of the continuous Christian life in the Holy Land since the time of Christ. Paradoxically, some Christian voices in the United States, expressing a factually erroneous point of view, even deny the presence of living and historic Christian communities in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority.

As a consequence of the violent confrontations and the poverty and economic instability of the Palestinian population, emigration from the region continues and accelerates. Thus, the entire Christian population, and especially the Orthodox Christian population, is diminished month by month. In demographic terms, within the foreseeable future the Holy Land will be a land of holy sites and holy stones, with the Christian population reduced to the status of mere custodians of these holy places, no longer able to maintain a viable community life.

We appeal to all nations and persons engaged in this crisis to take into account the concerns we have expressed as they seek to travel on the road to peace and democracy in the Middle East.

In reflecting on the violence and threats of violence in the Middle East, and about the rapidly decreasing Christian population, we read with appreciation the report of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCC) delegation which visited the Middle East early this year. Under the title “Barriers Do Not Bring Freedom,” the delegation expressed also the concerns we raise in this statement of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. We appreciate this expression of Christian solidarity. We appeal to all Christians in the US to be mindful of all the living Christian communities in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the whole Middle East, and to show this mindfulness in prayer and in actions of solidarity.

From the above mentioned report of the NCCC we wish to quote some significant passages:

"We are grateful to God for the witness to Christ made by the living churches of the Middle East from which we descend. We affirm the whole earth is God's holy land, though of course the land of Israel and Palestine holds particular importance for us, for it is the land of the Prophets and Our Saviour. We also affirm that God's children are called to seek justice, to break down the walls that separate them, and to live side by side in peace...

"Our word is one of alarm and worry. Current policies promise more war, death, and destruction. We are deeply concerned for all people in the region whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of other faiths. There are far too many disturbing realities to give us confidence. Not only should people everywhere insist on and act for peace in the Middle East, they must also pray fervently for the peace of Jerusalem.

"We believe that American Christians must see themselves as bridge-builders for peace and must not abandon or forget all God's children of the Middle East. We heard many pleas from our Christian sisters and brothers to raise our voices and work for a just enduring and comprehensive peace. The rapid disappearance of the Christian presence in the Holy Land and, indeed, the entire region due to emigration is alarming and can only be reversed if conditions are changed for all the peoples of the Middle East...

"We met with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders as well as with a wide variety of missionaries, intellectuals, and political officials including those of Israel, Palestine, and the United States. Dialogue and understanding between all faith communities is not an academic exercise in the Middle East, it is absolutely necessary for survival. We must all work for a change of heart and a change of mind that leads toward reconciliation and harmony. We confess that the life of every human being is sacred and that the violent death of anyone is tragic.

"We reaffirm our strong support for Israel and for its right to live in peace and security. Israel has suffered from a long series of suicide bombings, which we find reprehensible. Our support of Israel goes back many years, as does our support for justice for the Palestinian people....

"We personally witnessed the devastating effects of the Separation Barrier. Because it is being built not on the 1967 Green Line but primarily on Palestinian land, parents are separated from children, husbands from wives, farmers from their land, patients from hospitals, workers from employers, and local Christians from the holy sites...

"As people of faith, we affirm life. When ancient olive trees are uprooted from the soil in which they were planted, when access to water is denied, when children's futures are threatened, this does not lead to life in this world as intended by God. Join us in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem and in seeking justice for all people of the Middle East.”


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