Toledo Syrians watching developments, hoping, praying from half a world away


On Sunday, four Christian Orthodox churches held a combined worship service at a park in Sylvania. Priests from both of the Toledo-area Antiochian Orthodox Christian churches, St. George Cathedral and St. Elias Church, were there, as was Bishop Anthony of the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest.

Antioch is a city in Syria; it is where their church has its headquarters and where their highest leader, Patriarch John X, is still active in his ministry.

Besides the security of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in its home being a concern, two archbishops of other Orthodox churches, Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, were kidnapped April 22 in Syria. They are prayed for daily, Bishop Anthony said.

John X issued a statement on Aug. 30 calling on international organizations to “adopt appropriate steps which would promote the protection of the inhabitants of these lands,” including other Middle Eastern countries experiencing conflict. Speaking for the Church, he invited “all interested states to abandon, directly or indirectly, all their private narrow interests in order to help prepare an appropriate context for Syria to arrive at the fundamentals of a political and peaceful solution through the logic of dialogue rather than that of deadly conflict.” And he asked for help to find and free all who were kidnapped, not just the archbishops.

Metropolitan Philip, the head of the North American Antiochian Christian Church archdiocese, wrote a letter Tuesday urging the faithful to contact Congress in opposition to U.S. unilateral military action. "In my opinion, based on a lifetime of knowledge in that area of the world, it serves neither the interest of the United States, nor the Syrian people (or the people of the Middle East at large for that matter) to bomb and further destabilize the country," he said.

Bishop Anthony said that the Antiochian Orthodox Christian church will stay in Syria “to serve the good that's still there” and that “we concentrate mostly on the care for the people and the continuity of tradition which stays there, because in the 11th chapter of the book of Acts it said in Antioch they were first called Christians … so we concentrate on our pastoral and evangelical needs for the people in that area and pray that God brings peace to that region.”

The patriarch rejected thoughts of acting just for those of his faith. “We hear this international society often pretending to cry for Christians in the East and to feel sorrow for what it calls their bad situations. However, we do not need this consolation since our fate in our countries is the same fate as that of our compatriots with whom we have lived in love and harmony for a long time.”

Speaking beyond his country's borders, Patriarch John X is using his faith to call on the world to change the ways of war and peace, insisting that the United Nations “adopt new approaches to return security to the people of this region who pay a high price as a result of these conditions in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt. We proclaim this loudly to public and international opinion, for the tragedies are repeating unchecked and impinging on every formerly secure house of our cities and villages.”

Toledo is half a world away from the Middle East geographically, but we have an international community, and people of Syrian heritage will be found in more Christian congregations than just the Orthodox, they're members of the local Islamic community, and some are practicing their Jewish faith during the high holy days happening now. Toledo has Syrians of faith and of no faith, and they're not often separated out from the larger multifaith population of northwest Ohio. With increasing calls for the U.S. to take military action in Syria, the words of local, national, and international religious leaders of all faiths can have great weight. May Toledo's Orthodox Christian churches standing together set an example globally.

Contact TK Barger @, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.