05.11.2015 (Frankfrut, Germany) - Yesterday, a new Byzantine church was consecrated in Saint George’s Philosophical and Theological College. That is why Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, had made the journey from Syria. In an interview with Christian Scheh he spoke about the situation of Christians in the Middle East, about their relations with Islam and about his impression of the Church in Germany.

From the embattled Syrian capital, Damascus, Patriarch Gregorios III Laham came to Saint George’s College. He gave an interview to this newspaper in the new seminary.

“The Church is close to people”

Frankfurter Neue Presse fnp.de | Interview with Gregorios III Laham

The so-called Islamic State (IS) is on the rampage in the Middle East; countless folk are fleeing. Will there be any Christians left there in the future?

GREGORIOS III LAHAM: Yes, certainly. We Christians must remain there, even though we are only a small flock. We should never forget that the Church began with just twelve Apostles. The fact that, although Christians have been in the minority in the Middle East since the thirteenth century they are still there, I take to be a special grace. At the moment the situation is of course very difficult. There is the danger that more and more Christians will go away.

How threatened are Christians in Syria and Damascus these days?

GREGORIOS: All people are in a state of war. That means that you cannot tell the difference between Muslims and Christians. The bombs are falling on everyone. IS and various rebel groups are even fighting against other Muslims.

Is a normal parish life with church services still possible at all today?

GREGORIOS: Yes, where there are still Christians and churches, life goes on despite the war. In Damascus we have gone on celebrating our services, and youth and women’s confraternities are meeting as usual. Feast-days are celebrated too, but perhaps with less pomp than in peacetime.

How many Christians live in Syria at the moment, and how strong is the flow of refugees?

GREGORIOS: Before the crisis, there were about two million Christians of all denominations in Syria. Now I estimate that there are some four hundred and fifty thousand Christians currently fleeing, inside and outside the country.

You have often stressed that Christians in the Middle East should not leave. How do you motivate them to stay?

GREGORIOS: I always say: Christ was born in the Middle East and the first Christians had their place here. Benedict XVI said that the Middle East could not be understood without reference to Christianity. Christians translated texts – for example, on philosophy, medicine or mathematics – from Greek. In that way they laid the foundation for Arab and Islamic culture.

Syria was always considered a country where Muslims’ and Christians’ living together worked well. Has anything in that been changed by the war?

GREGORIOS: Living together is, by and large, thriving, although there is no organisation that is devoted to interfaith dialogue. But there are also border zones, into which IS, with its ideology, has infiltrated.

What kind of support are you getting from Rome and the Church around the world?

GREGORIOS: I am grateful to the Churches and international organisations, which are very deeply involved. The Vatican and individual dioceses support us, as does Caritas international, charities and smaller groups. The Church is close to people who are in need. The help is considerable, but of course, never enough.

On what is the financial aid spent?

GREGORIOS: It is spent on food and medicines, relief supplies such as blankets and camp-beds, and on schools. Reconstruction of destroyed houses and churches only plays a role whenever people who have fled come back.

In the Middle East people are risking their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ, while in Germany that faith seems to be evaporating. What impression do you have of the Churches in Germany?

GREGORIOS: Churches in Germany do have dwindling membership numbers, but also special tasks: the faithful must encounter Muslim refugees. And they must show their Christian identity more strongly, not in the sense of confrontation, but in the sense of a brotherly togetherness. If there is a vacuum on the side of Christianity, Muslims will fill it with their own faith.

What can Christians in Germany learn from Eastern Christians?

GREGORIOS: We are certainly rather more religious and adhere more firmly to our tradition and rites. Among us, religion plays a greater role in everyday life.

If you, as Patriarch of Damascus, could have one wish granted – what would it be?

GREGORIOS: My wish is for all Christian Churches of all denominations to campaign with unified voice for peace in the Middle East. Peace there is indeed crucial for the future of the whole world. The Church’s task is to be a peacemaker – even in the dialogue with Islam.

© 2015 Frankfurter Neue Presse

Link to original article in German: http://www.fnp.de/lokales/frankfurt/Die-Kirche-ist-nah-bei-den-Menschen;art675,1681113


Teachings of Christ

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44 ESV)

Pentecost

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, * Who has shown the fishermen to be all wise, * by sending down to them the Holy Spirit, * and through them You have caught the whole world in Your net. * O Lover of Mankind, glory to You. (Troparion - Tone 8)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

When the Most High descended, confusing tongues, * He divided the nations; * but when He distributed the tongues of fire, * He called all to unity; * and, with one voice, * we glorify the Most Holy Spirit. (Kontakion - Tone 8)

Saints and Martyrs

Adorned with the blood of Your Martyrs throughout the world, * as with purple and fine linen, * Your Church cries out to You through them: * "Send down Your compassions upon Your people. * Grant peace to Your commonwealth and great mercy to our souls." (Troparion - Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

As the first-fruits of nature to the Planter of Creation, * the whole world offers to You, O Lord, the God-bearing martyrs. * Through their prayers and the intercession of the Mother of God * preserve Your commonwealth, the Church, in profound peace, O Most Merciful One. (Kontakion - Tone 8)

Random Proverb

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." (Proverbs 3:11,12 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

What, then, are the things which are being prepared for those who wait for Him? The Creator and Father of the ages, the All-holy One, Himself knows their greatness and beauty. Let us then strive to be found among the number of those that wait, that we may receive a share of the promised gifts.

St. Clement of Rome