Statement on the Middle East
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops
Blessed are the peacemakers (Matt. 5.9)
We, the members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, gathered in Dallas, Texas, on September 16-18, 2014, prayed “for the peace of the whole world” (from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) and decried the brutal and bloody violence in the Middle East.
The barbarity perpetrated against Christians, Muslims and vulnerable communities in the Middle East by the self-named Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as well as other jihadist groups has claimed numerous innocent lives and driven countless people from their homes. It has also threatened the existence of Christian communities, which enjoy an uninterrupted presence there for over two thousand years. Recent hostility not only against Christians and Yazidis, but also against Muslims, has shocked the entire civilized world.
Echoing the statement of His Beatitude Patriarch John X of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East as well as the other Patriarchs of the East (August 14, 2014), we lament and denounce the egregious and barbarous incidents in the area, including religious intolerance and fanaticism, that erode the social fabric and unity of the region, destroying churches, shrines and monuments, which are the common heritage of all Christians and, indeed, all humanity.
Along with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “we cannot remain indifferent or silent before such irrational persecution, cultural intolerance and appalling loss of life, especially when caused by religious hatred and racial hostility” (August 13, 2014). The recent horrific events in Iraq and Syria, Libya and Egypt, and especially in Palestine and Lebanon, demonstrate the dire consequences of remaining complacent in the face of evil.
In this regard, we affirm the Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches (March 9, 2014), which called “for the immediate cessation of military action, liberation of captives, and establishment of peace in the region through dialogue,” stressing “that Christians in the Middle East are a leaven of peace” and emphasizing that “peace for all people also means peace for Christians.”
1) We affirm our solidarity with and pray for the safety of Christians in the Middle East, committing ourselves to work for peace and justice in the region.
2) We support international efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue, ensuring the security, freedom and human rights of their peoples, and bringing peace to the Holy Land.
3) We encourage all people of good will to support agencies, already hard at work throughout the region, in their efforts to assist the displaced populations in order that they may return to their homes.
4) We urge governments and authorities to insist upon the fundamental human rights and religious freedom of all, urgently establish the rule of law, and immediately desist from supporting extremist groups and oppressive governments whether through financial means or military arms.
5) We urge the United Nations and the international community, and especially the government of our United States of America, to establish policies that promote peace and justice for all in the region, while refraining from all forms of violence.
6) We firmly reiterate our call for the immediate release of our brothers, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop John Ibrahim, both of Aleppo in Syria, who were kidnapped on April 22, 2013, as well as the release of all innocent captives.
Finally, above and beyond our appeal and prayer for peace and justice, mindful that “what is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18.27), we place our ultimate hope in “God, who is the source of peace” (Rom. 16.20).
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The Sunday Scripture Readings
The Gospel Reading
(For the First Sunday of Luke)
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (5:1-11)
At that time, Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And He saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, Jesus asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.
And when Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Thy word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish, which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
The Epistle Reading
(For the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
The Lord will give strength to His people.
Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of God, ascribe to the Lord honor and glory.
The Reading from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (6:1-10)
Brethren, working together with Him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For He says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.