Monday, January 20, 2014

an-Nahar on Patriarch John X's Upcoming Visit to Moscow

Arabic original, in today's an-Nahar, here.

John X to Moscow for the First Time as Patriarch, In Conjunction with the Start of Geneva 2

by Pierre Atallah

In his first visit to Russia since his enthronement as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Patriarch John X is leaving for Moscow to meet with Orthodox Church leaders, chiefly Patriarch Kyrill.

Patriarch Kyrill is strong and influential in Russian public life and has pointed stances with regard to rejecting a secular Western-style distancing of the Church from politics and national affairs and with regard to determining the course of the Russian state on various internal and external levels, especially in matters pertaining to the issue of minorities in the Middle East, both Muslim and Christian, since his famous visit to the Syrian capital at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War remains fresh in the mind. Sources following the positions of the Antiochian Orthodox Church see in the visit to Moscow a stance that the Antiochian Orthodox Church has needed to take for a long time, especially after it became clear the American-Western role is indifferent to Christians in the Middle East and that American and European politics place financial and economic interests over any humanitarian or moral considerations, as evidenced by the suffering of Christians during Lebanon's extended civil war and by the post-war period when American policy gave its blessing to the reduction of the Christian presence in the political, economic and administrative institutions of the state, under various pretexts. Sources following the Christian issue are of the opinion that Patriarch John X, who is known for his firm nerves, prudence and calm approach to things, may have chosen to delay the visit in order to distance it from any form of political or even narrowly sectarian investment. This is at the threshold of a new phase initiated by the Geneva 2 conference, which is intended to move toward a political solution to the Syrian Civil War, especially given the Russian role in supporting minorities and announcing their protection and promoting this issue as a strategic issue about which there can be no bargaining. This is something whose effects and aspects the head of the Catholic Church has completely internalized, as evidenced by Pope Francis' position rejecting the war on Syria whose repercussions weighed on the American-European position about attacking Syria, alongside the grave moral harm brought by the Salafi-Jihadi course taken by the Syrian opposition.

The sources are of the opinion that the patriarch of Antioch's visit to Moscow is further confirmation of the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East, whether in Syria or Lebanon, in conjunction with the beginning of the discussion over the future of Syria, where ten percent of the population is considered to be Christian. Christians and Muslim minorities constitute a heavy weight in the internal Syrian equation, which has been confirmed by events since the beginning of the war in Syria. In this sense, Patriarch John X, by meeting with the head of the Russian Church and her leaders brings with him the concerns of Syrians in general and Christians in particular and their desires, goals and views of Syria's future. This is something that is not the exclusive preserve of the ruling regime nor of the groups that have declared their opposition to it and combat it. Rather, there are forces whose presence should no longer be ignored in the search for the future and its options and no one is better than Russia, as a state, a government and a church to transmit this perspective and place it on the negotiating table and in the proposed formulas.

It should be pointed out that Patriarch John X is one to take the initiative and surmount difficulties, as evidenced by his visit to Pope Francis and their extended meeting to discuss issues between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and their people, which is said to have contributed to changing the pope's view of many issues related to the Middle East.

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