(Bonn Profiles News 07/2013 – No. 243) The Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Ignatius Zakka I., along with several bishops and archbishops of his church, has publicly thanked the Ambassador for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance for the work of the WEA on behalf of Christians facing discrimination worldwide, and especially for the efforts of the WEA on behalf of Syrian Orthodox Christians. At the same time, the Patriarch invited him to visit the Middle East. Thomas Schirrmacher presented the Patriarch with a copy of the new, wide-ranging book published for the WEA on the theme of Christian persecution which was written by 45 experts from around the world. (Sorrow & Blood: Christian Mission in Contexts of Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom, edited by William Taylor, Antonia van der Meer, and Reg Reimer. William Carey Library, 2012.)
In his remarks Schirrmacher pointed out that the Syriac Orthodox Church has a history of experiencing persecution that did not begin with the recent civil war. The fact that 300,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians and their descendants live in Europe today is a result of the persecution which, beginning in the late nineteenth century, reached its high point about a century ago, at which time many thousands were chased out of Turkey. He lamented that the fate of the church in Syria, which is being wiped out between the opposing military fronts, has hardly come to the attention of the world media and political leaders. Schirrmacher also held several individual discussions with both Syrian Orthodox and Coptic bishops from various Muslim majority countries who reported on the discrimination and persecution of Christians in their various countries.
Ignatius Zakka I. Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, was born in 1933 and elected to become the 122nd patriarch of his church in 1980. The church traces its roots to the first century and has concentrations of churches today in the Middle East, India, Sweden, Germany, and Canada. It is part of the group of ancient churches which are usually called “Oriental Orthodox” to distinguish them from the “Eastern Orthodox” churches.
The Oriental Orthodox Communion includes six separate churches which remain distinct while cooperating. They are the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Eritrean Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (in India), and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Syriac Orthodox Church also calls itself the “Syriac” Orthodox Church, to emphasize that it is not necessarily associated only with the modern country of Syria.
The Patriarch was visiting Germany for the fifth time. The occasion for his recent visit to the Cloister of St. Jacob of Sarug, in Warburg, was the installation of the new Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicar of Germany, Bishop Philoxinos Mathias Nayis. Bishop Nayis, age 35, was born in Sweden and served until recently as the personal secretary of the Patriarch in Damascus. His new duties focus on the spiritual care of their congregations in Germany. Archbishop Patriarchal Vicar Dr. Julius Hanna Aydin, who was Metropolitan of Germany since 2007, has taken responsibility for ecumenical and political relations on behalf of his church.