On Wednesday, March 1, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), hosted an ecumenical luncheon at the Diocesan Center honoring the leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church: His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.
Patriarch Ignatius—who is in the midst of a visit to the United States—opened the afternoon with an invocation. Archbishop Barsamian noted the importance of church leaders coming together “to give physical expression to our sense of solidarity, friendship, and common mission in the world today.”
He went on to speak about Patriarch Ignatius’ leadership and dedicated service in the vineyard of the Lord. Prior to becoming the Patriarch of the Syriac Church, he served as the longtime leader of the Syriac Archdiocese in North America.
“I know that your experience here in America, and your leadership on the ecumenical stage, have given you the knowledge and ability to govern wisely in a church that now straddles East and West, the ancient and the modern,” Archbishop Barsamian said.
Turning to the painful subject of Christian suffering in the Middle East, Archbishop Barsamian told Patriarch Ignatius, that “through prayer and fellowship, through mutual support and love—we too stand in solidarity with you.”
Patriarch Ignatius expressed his gratitude for the warm reception and extended his best wishes to His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and to all the faithful of the Armenian Church.
“Our blood was mixed together witnessing to our faith in the former Ottoman Empire,” he said, noting that today Christians in the Middle East continue to maintain their centuries-old presence in the region that was once the cradle of the Christian faith. They face seemingly insurmountable odds, he said, including the persecution of clergy, attacks on churches, and the threat of violence and death.
“We Christians believe that God wanted us to be there for almost 2,000 years for a reason: to witness to him and to spread faith and hope among others,” he said. “If it wasn’t for our faith, we would have given up a long time ago.”
Patriarch Ignatius went on to call on churches in the West to send delegations to the Middle East, and more importantly to continue to pray and to advocate on behalf of these vulnerable Christian communities.
He presented Archbishop Barsamian with a hand cross created by Armenian and Syrian craftsmen in Aleppo 20 years ago—on the eve of his arrival to America in 1996, when he began his role as the leader of the Syriac Archdiocese of the Eastern United States.
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical director, reflected on his trip to Iraq earlier this winter, where he witnessed firsthand the plight of Christian refugees. “They need your prayers,” he reminded the clergy gathered.
The luncheon concluded with a closing prayer offered by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He asked God to protect the people of the Middle East, so that they could enjoy “the right to live a life of dignity, freedom, peace, and happiness.”
Other hierarchs present at the luncheon included His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America; Bishop David and Bishop Karas of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Archbishop Mor Dionysius Jean Kawak of the Syriac Church; Bishop Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Archbishop Mor Titus Yeldho and Metropolitan Ayub Mor Silvanos of the Malankara Church. Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church were also in attendance.
In addition to Archbishop Barsamian and Archbishop Aykazian, Armenian clergy at the luncheon included the Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, dean of St. Vartan Cathedral; Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian; and Rev. Fr. Diran Bohajian.