The Portal April 2017 - Page 6

THE P RTAL April 2017 Page 6 “Talitha, qum” he said Fr Mark Woodruff traces important links in Aleppo I n 2004, the Christians of Aleppo in Syria, 60 miles east of Antioch, were asked to devise the services for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Their different Christianities have lived together for two millennia, the descendants of the first to receive the Gospel from the apostles’ activity out of the nearby metropolis. Here to this day are the heirs of the once Greek-speaking ruling class, the descendants of the Aramaic-speaking populace, the Armenians who projected the Roman Empire’s trade – and the Church - north into their heartlands in modern Turkey and east to the Caucasus. Although their Churches later endured rivalries and estrangement, first in the fifth century over belief about Christ’s humanity and divinity, and in the 17-18th centuries over allegiance to which Church – Constantinople, Rome or others – offered the best prospect for survival in the midst of fifteen centuries of Islamic subjugation, they held onto an insight that western Christianity learned only in the twentieth century: what unites the Christians is greater than what divides us. Those collaborating in 2004 included the two Byzantine-rite Churches: the Melkites in communion with Rome, and the Antiochian Orthodox Church. They are co-descendants of the Greek-speakers for whom St Mark’s and St Luke’s gospels were set down. Nowadays both are bearers of a distinctively Arabic Byzantine musical, artistic and intellectual patrimony. Also taking part were the long-established Armenians, whose distinctive rite belongs to a Catholic and an Oriental Orthodox Church. There were Chaldean Catholics, too, whose Catholicos-Patriarch of Babylon is centred in Baghdad in Iraq, but whose people are scattered across the world, like the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of India, which belongs to the same “East Syrian” liturgical tradition. Joining them were their non-Catholic fellow- inheritors from the Church of the East, sometimes known as Assyrian, and wrongly described as Nestorian. There were also the Churches with apostolic roots but also representing historical “West Syrian” monastic renewal with monasteries still across Lebanon, Syria and Iraq: the Maronite Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch in communion with Rome (related to the Syro-Malankara Church in India), and the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (which is in union with the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Armenian Orthodox Churches). This Christian solidarity, despite centuries of deep- rooted differences, has been vital to endurance during the ordeals of civil war and Islamist persecution. Nine years after the 2004 Week of Prayer drew on Christianity’s oldest wells, Ma’loula, one of only three villages left where they speak Western Neo-Aramaic, which is related to Christ’s own language, was overrun by terrorists. Twelve Antiochian Orthodox nuns of Mar Taqla (the ancient monastery of St Thecla), who had stayed on to aid the dispossessed, were kidnapped; three Greek Catholic men were martyred and a large image of Our Lady was destroyed. The Melkite patriarch, Gregorios III, set up an Aramaic school for those fleeing south to Damascus, so that the ancient culture with a direct link to the first century would not be lost in the twenty-first. Father John Salter tells the story of being on a bus in Damascus, and hearing an Aramaic father telling his daughter to stand up and give her seat to the priest: “Talitha, qum,” he said (Mark 5.41). In 2014 the nuns were released, and Mar Taqla, and the Melkite monastery of Mar Sarkis (SS Sergius & Bacchus, older than the Council of Nicaea in 325), welcomed back the people to rebuild their community. A new image of Our Lady of Peace was erected by Catholic Melkites, Orthodox and Muslims together. The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi, and the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan, Yohanna Ibrahim, were also abducted in 2013, on a joint visit to release hostages in Turkey. Metropolitan Paul’s deacon was martyred and there has been no sign of the archbishops since, although they are believed to be alive. Truly, Pope Francis, following Pope Benedict and St John Paul, observed that in the moment of martyrdom the divided Christians are one: it is the ecumenism of blood. In England, we have spoken much of an Anglican patrimony to be cherished in the Catholic Church. That Catholics and Anglicans share it now is a fruit of four centuries of martyrdom, oppression and estrangement: so it ought to be seen as a means of contact and mutual pride, a bond, not a boundary. The link between Church, rite, patrimony and communion is something the East understands as a fact of life. Their wisdom is the tradition from which we have received. Next month in Eastertide we will look into the beautiful West Syriac monastic and liturgical tradition – shared by Orthodox and Eastern Catholics alike – whose b