Syriac Christians are among the oldest Christians in the world. When Ananias is told by God in Acts 9:11 to visit Saul of Tarsus on the street that is called “straight”, he is speaking of a street that is still in existence today in Damascus, Syria. The church is built on the see of Antioch, one of the five ancient sees of the Christian church. Syria is the real birthplace of Christianity for Gentiles. Acts 11:26 says “…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” The liturgy that they use, the Liturgy of St. James, is the oldest Christian liturgy known. Anglicans have a special connection to this liturgy through the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”, originally a Syriac chant sung during the Eucharistic portion of the Liturgy of St. James.
Today, their churches are being burnt, their monasteries destroyed, their priests murdered, their women raped, and even their children kidnapped, crucified, and beheaded. Yet they are strong in their faith and hold true even to their death. I am reminded of the words of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, “Even children haste to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength…. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?”” These Syriac martyrs of today have the faith of their forefather St. Ignatius of Antioch, the third Patriarch of Antioch (he became Bishop in 70 Ad. after the martyr Evodius, who was appointed by Paul), who said in his epistle to the Romans, “Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.”
How do we help? First, we pray. Second, we build relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters from the Middle East. Third, we stay informed about the reality of the situation. Through prayer, love, and knowledge, the Holy Spirit can work within us and begin to reveal ways in which we can help. Then, we must be obedient… with our lives, with our money, with our hearts and with our time. Pray about how God may want to use you to comfort his suffering church.
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