by Penny Starr
The leader of the ancient Antioch Christian church in the Middle East said on Tuesday that Christians are essential for a lasting peace in the region.
“We cannot ignore the fact that, without the Christians in the Middle East, there is no Middle East,” His Beatitude John X said during a press conference in Washington, DC, held as part of the In Defense of Christians’ (IDC) annual summit.
The patriarch said the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorists’ efforts to extinguish the Christian population in the Middle East prove his point about the vital role the faith plays in the region, where diverse religions have peacefully co-existed.
“The church is the beacon of truth in this educated world,” the patriarch said. “We will continue to witness to that truth even if we are hanged on the cross.”
He also vowed that Christians will stay in the Middle East despite the ongoing challenges.
The Church of Antioch was founded by Apostles Paul and Barnabas in 42 A.D., with the Apostle Peter serving for the next eight years as the church’s first prelate.
Patriarch John X’s church is one of the five ancient Patriarchates of the Christian Church, along with Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome. Antiochians are in full communion with other Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church in America, as well as many other Orthodox jurisdictions around the world, according to the church’s website.
Andrew Doran, vice president and senior policy adviser with IDC, introduced the patriarch and His Beatitude Moran More Bechara Boutros al-Rai, the 77th Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and a Cardinal with the Catholic Church.
Doran said some 5 million Christians in the United States are part of the two patriarchs’ flock and that the church represents the “very earliest origins of Christianity.”
Christians in the Middle East have suffered horrible persecution and even death at the hands of terrorists in recent years, Doran said.
Doran said that it is not a matter of one policy or one intervention being put in place or not being put in place, but U.S. foreign policy and the response from the broader international community that has been “disastrous.”
“I think there can be no argument that the consequences over the last 15 years in the Middle East have been nothing short of disastrous for Christians in the region and that the United States needs to do more to protect the Christians in the Middle East,” Doran said.
“The Christians of the Middle East are our natural allies — not just of our government but the American people,” Doran said, adding that driving Christians out of their homeland, which has been the case in places like Iraq and Syria, leaves those nations in the hands of extremists.
The literature from the summit states:
Christians in the Middle East close the cultural gap between East and West and serve as natural bridge builders. However, with an increase of persecution, high rates of immigration, and the rise of ISIS, their number has drastically dwindled in the past few years. The United States of America can support Christian minorities in the Middle East whose continuous presence in the Middle East ensures the national security of the U.S.
The five IDC resolutions for 2017 “work to stabilize Lebanon and Syria, deliver desperately needed aid to victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, correct a historic injustice by recognizing the Armenian genocide, hold American allies who persecute Christians and other minorities accountable and identify individuals and groups who supported ISIS’ campaign of terror and genocide against Christians.”