The following two articles are from the Orthodox-owned and strongly anti-Syrian Lebanese daily an-Nahar. Depending on how you want to read the prejudices of the newspaper and its anonymous sources, it could be understood in a number of ways. The opposition activist's statements about the situation in Homs especially contradict reliable reports from Orthodox, Catholic, and journalistic sources. The two articles can be found here and here. See also Fr. Touma Bitar's reflection on these articles.
Ignatius IV: The Church’s Position is Expressed Exclusively by the Patriarch
At a meeting of the trustees of Balamand University, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Ignatius IV Hazim, affirmed that “the Church of Antioch’s position regarding [current] events is expressed exclusively by the patriarch and was defined by the Holy Synod at its meeting that was held in Lebanon last year.” He stated that “the opinions of some bishops in Syria and Lebanon do not necessarily express the positions of the Church of Antioch regarding [current] events and changes.” An-Nahar has learned that this position by Patriarch Ignatius IV targets statements made by bishops in Syria that were treated in media outlets as authoritative positions.
“Christ’s Shabiha” in Syria: Loyalist Militia suppresses Christian Opposition
Hazim’s Position Sets the Record Straight about a Bishop’s Statements
By Pierre Atallah
The latest words of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Ignatius IV, gave pause to observers when he said, “the Church of Antioch’s position regarding [current] events is expressed exclusively by the patriarch and was defined by the Holy Synod at its meeting that was held in Lebanon last year” and pointed out that “the opinions of some bishops in Syria and Lebanon do not necessarily express the positions of the Church of Antioch regarding [current] events and changes.”
A lay official with close ties to the church institution explains that “Patriarch Hazim’s position is the historical political position of the Church that is careful to have the best relations with changing rulers and to not conspire against them but at the same time to not stand as an impediment against the movement of peoples and change.” In his opinion, this very theological position continues to be the subject of discussion in the Church between those who consider it to be a “dhimmi” position and those who consider it to be a traditional position, depending on the words of the Gospel, “Leave to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Consequently, the Church condemns oppression and violence and does not intervene in politics except when they oppose morals and values. The Orthodox layman returns to the text of Patriarch Hazim’s announcement, explaining that “the one who speaks for the Church is the Holy Synod, which meets twice a year. Any position aside from this that comes from a bishop, a priest, or a deacon, during his daily activities, claiming to speak in the name of the Church and conflicting with the positions of the patriarch and the Holy Synod is a personal opinion and the one expressing it alone bears full responsibility for it.”
For the official, matters are clear. The Church does not equivocate in the matter and it sees that there are some who support the regime in Syria in the manner of bishop L[ouka] Kh[oury] and there are those who think like him and support it in practical ways. On the other hand, there are those who strongly oppose the Syrian regime, foremost among them Michel Kilo, Georges Sabra, and a not insignificant proportion of clergy and laity. However, the most important thing is that the Church is not a political party or organization and so it does not want to show its people that they are minorities, but rather citizens who interact with their surroundings and their people. This is what the last meeting of the Holy Synod announced when it called on members of the Church to “participate in change”
An Orthodox Syrian activist who follows closely the details of what is happening on the ground explains that “Positions that support the Syrian regime are only coming from Bishop L[ouka] Kh[oury], while the Church as a whole does not want the bishops to be tied to any particular political situation, realizing the critical and sensitive nature of the Syrian situation. This is the reason for it keeps the best relations with the Muslims, not wanting the positions of some extremists to influence in any way the whole group and thus damage the history of brotherhood and common life throughout the Arab world. The Orthodox were and continue to be the pioneers of Arab nationalism, the struggle for Palestine, and confronting Israel.”
The activist adds that talk of Christian support for the Syrian regime is not precise. He points to a militia group that was founded by the regime and given the name “Shabiha of Christ,” confirming that “it is composed of two groups: supporters of the Baath Party and the regime apparatus in Damascus and the region of Wadi al-Nasara in northern Syria.” He recounts that this Baathist militia “limits its concern to attacking Christians in the opposition and to respond to any Christian Syrian movement.” Orthodox and Maronite religious leaders in Wadi al-Nasara are very much aware of what is happening and they rushed to respond to this group, while matters are different in the capital where the bishop L[ouka] Kh[oury] openly expresses his support for the regime and his support for the shabiha in this.” The activist affirms that “the majority of Christians in Syria seek a life in security, quiet, and peace with all components of the Syrian people without any discrimination. Those who openly express their support in an explicit way are few, while a significant proportion stands in the ranks of the opposition, especially the youth, the intellectuals, and the artists, in the ranks of the traditional left and independents.”
Regarding what has been said about expulsions in Homs, the activist stressed that the Christians were displaced from the city, like many of its people, due to heavy shelling and a lack of supplies. As for talk about houses being occupied, he affirms that it is exaggerated and that it amounts to around 15 homes. They were not seized because of their owners’ being Christians, but because they had been taken as military positions. In this regard, the activist stated that a number of Orthodox priests are holding out in Homs with a number of elderly men and that the Patriarchate sends them rations to be distributed to all citizens through parishes, knowing that the Patriarchate has great experience with supply chains, possessing the human and administrative resources and authorization from a number of Christian aid organizations. This comes from the experience it has acquired working with Iraqi refugees.
The activist closed by pointing out that what has been said about expulsions contradicts the reality of excellent relations that exist between Muslims and Christians in Damascus and its outskirts, Homs and its outskirts, and Lattakia. He pointed to the villages of Mhardeh (Patriarch Hazim’s village), al-Suqaylabiyya, and Kfarbaam, where, according to him, thousands of Syrian Christians live in the best relations with their Muslim neighbors.