At the time of writing Middle East news in press and television focus on the devastation of eastern Aleppo in Syria, the preparation in northern Iraq for the assault on Mosul (formerly a great centre for Assyrian Christians) and the parlous situation of the people of Yemen, where starvation threatens alongside the effects of bombing.
The situation in parts of the Middle East in recent decades has rarely been so tragic and the ultimate outcomes so uncertain. The effects of the various conflicts will last for generations on the communities of the region, not least the Christian minorities. The words of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem, in the interview later in this issue (page 20), reflect the desires of so many – ‘We want to be helped to stay here, not to leave. We want our Churches to have a better life. We want as Syrians to be able to choose our own life and our own future.’ They need our prayers and support.
Although the Episcopal Church in Syria is closed, our editor has been able to include interviews with two religious leaders in Damascus, drawn from the report of a delegation that visited Syria in early September and it is important to be able to read their views and their concerns for religious diversity which is so under threat (page 20). Orthodox Churches have developed from the early Churches of the Christian era so Canon Hugh Wybrew’s article (pages 14-15) on the great Orthodox Council is an important reflection on a significant gathering The Episcopal Church is a member of the Middle East Council of Churches and of the World Council – so it is good to have a report from two of our trustees. Dr William Taylor, who represented the Archbishop of Canterbury, reports on the MECC Assembly in Amman (page 12). Dr Clare Amos, a noted biblical scholar with much experience of the Middle East and interfaith work and a welcome addition to our Board writes about the World Council of Churches and the Middle East (page 13). It is not often that we are able to feature the important work of these two ecumenical bodies.
Alongside these reflective articles there are the regular news items from the four dioceses which highlight the day to day presence of Episcopal parishes and the witness and service to the wider communities that they and their institutions provide. The role of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza was featured by the Bishop of Southwark in a debate on Gaza in the House of Lords and text of his speech is included in this issue (pages 10-11) – a reminder of the way in which continuing contact with the Churches of region can inform significant parliamentary occasions.