Icons, my usual and favorite topic, are only peripherally involved in this musing, as is the ecumenism of the event below. Some quick background: Long ago, the Eastern and Western Churches separated away from each other. It was a bitter split, and despite nearly identical teachings and doctrines, they remain separated today. At various points in the history of Christianity, some groups of Eastern Christians did ally themselves with Rome, as Eastern Rite members of the Catholic Church. Examples are the Ukranian, Melkite, and Chaldean Catholic Churches–there are others as well. They each have their own patriarchs, but are in full communion with Rome.
I pray for unity amongst all Christians once more. I think of the icon as a bridge between us, a beauty that transcends division. But tragedy also has a way of making people look past their differences. Why is it that it sometimes takes tragedy and disaster to make us pull together?
This past Easter, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, visited the ancient city of Maaloula, Syria, along with Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch.
From last September through April 2014, Maaloula has been the site of fierce fighting in the Syrian civil war. There has been much loss of life. Most villagers abandoned their homes and fled. A community of nuns was kidnapped. Churches were desecrated, looted, and destroyed, including this one, which was built in the 4th Century. People were tortured, forced to convert to Islam.
Together, the patriarchs came and inspected the damage. They prayed together for the people of Syria. As reported in Catholic News Service, Melkite Patriarch Laham, a native Syrian, said in his Easter message :
“We don’t want any more martyrs! We don’t want any more orphans! We don’t want more widows and more mothers losing their children! We don’t want any more millions of children traumatized! Enough wounded! Enough handicapped, mutilated or disfigured! Enough of people haunted by fear, hatred and bitterness! Enough kidnappings and extortions!
He appealed to the world “in the name of the poor, weak, widows, victims, the mortally wounded, mutilated, disfigured, the displaced persons, refugees, homeless, hungry, children, the elderly, pregnant women, handicapped, all those in despair, pain and discouragement. They are burdened by fear about the future and the fate of their families, children and young people.”
The patriarchs also urged that outsiders stand back, and do not get involved in the fray. They expressed faith that Syrians will be able to solve their own difficulties and arrive at fair solutions. They cautioned not only foreign militants that have entered the fighting, but also world nations that seek to get involved. I do not pretend to know what is best solution, but the Easter message of Patriarch Laham resounded with me for this, and all wars.