“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4)
The Christian East continues in the footsteps of its Master, sacrificing and in turn being sacrificed upon the altar of martyrdom, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24). This offering-martyrdom is the cup from which many of our brothers have drank and currently drink, confirming the words of the Lord to James and John on the threshold of His passion, “You will indeed drink My cup” (Matthew 20:23).
It is clear that the history of the Christians in the Middle East is at once painful and glorious. It is painful on account of the great pain and suffering that they experience on earth and glorious on account of the dignity and grace that they receive in heaven. It is a story whose roots go back to creation, to the account in the Book of Genesis about the first crime committed in history, Cain’s murder of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). From his point of view, Cain sacrifices on the altar of his degeneracy God and his brother. Thus, Cain irremediably attacks both existential dimensions of his life, the vertical and horizontal when he attacks true worship and brotherhood. On the other hand, in his person Abel saves, “offering up and offered by faith”, true worship and sacrifice to God. Furthermore, God accepts Abel’s offering and receives him as a sacrifice. Later, when he recalls this episode, the Apostle Paul highlights Abel’s faith and its impact even until today: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4)
Today the voice of Abel echoes loudly as the Christians of the East in general and the Middle East in particular commemorate the atrocities perpetrated against their communities at the end of the Ottoman Empire, from 1915 onward. According to historians, a policy of methodical extermination, without precedent in history, was carried out at the hands of the Turks, causing the martyrdom of some five million Christians– Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Armenians and Orthodox: men, women and children. Thus this week the Armenian Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the Sayfo on April 24 and April 19, respectively. While our Patriarchate has not declared a hundredth anniversary– although doing so would be justified by the more than two million Orthodox martyrs (Syrians, Lebanese and Greeks)– we stand united with all Christians in this expression of faith and memory, as it is the same scenario that is repeating itself and occurring today to the Christians in the Middle East.
For these reasons, our Patriarch His Beatitude John X of Antioch along with his brothers His Beatitude Ephrem II, patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church; His Beatitude Theodoros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church; and His Beatitude Cardinal Bishara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Church; among others, are participating in the commemorations being held in Armenia to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
We are convinced that, without recognition of what happened in 1915 and its traits which continue until today, and without a clear, concrete and genuine commitment on the part of the great and regional powers, to prioritize and adopt the voice of Abel over that of Cain and to work effectively in this direction, it is impossible to prevent the altar of Cain from once more being filled with other sacrifices. No one is convinced by this abomination of humanity or the absence at the global level of political ability and determination to put an end to this disastrous, inhuman escalation that goes against all reason and logic, as well as against basic human rights.
Therefore, today the 22nd of April, the point between both anniversaries, the date on which we remember the two archbishops of Aleppo, His Eminence Archbishop Youhanna (Ibrahim) and His Eminence Paul (Yazigi), who were kidnapped in Syria on April 22, 2013, we struggle so that such atrocities will never happen again because we are seriously worried by the silent and progressive extermination of the Christian presence in the Middle East, an act accompanied by political indifference, hypocracy and a complicit international silence.
In the light of the Paschal season that we are experiencing, we understand that in all of this the attitude of everyone is critical: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
Therefore, we raise our prayer for peace and for peaceful and harmonious coexistence between all who have lived in that land for centuries, praying that the Lord will illumine the conscience and actions of all those who can bring a light of His resurrection to this frenzied situation in order to put a stop to it and to restore all for the benefit of humanity above any interest or material benefit.