Gathered on 24 June as part of the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee meeting, representatives from churches and ecumenical organizations in the Middle East took stock of old and new challenges in the region where Christianity itself originated, reflecting on the contributions Middle Eastern Christians can make at the upcoming WCC 11th Assembly.
Dr Theodora Issa of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East reflected on a currently dire situation for many people in the region, and importance of prayer on the road ahead.
“We are in need of prayers, for the people, and for the church. People in the Middle East are suffering not only from COVID-19, lack of vaccine, the financial situation, many are really struggling to live,” she said.
Dr Michel Abs, who spoke from his perspective as secretary general of the Middle East Council of Churches, continued to describe the region today as full of societies in transition – amid influences from both East and West – and of cultural and social contradictions.
“We see today the prediction that people who are poor in the region today, will remain poor for several decades,” he said, noting a plethora of challenges including environmental challenges, unemployment, economic and political struggles.
Yet he also stressed the many contributions Christians in the region continue to make as part of their witness and service. In Palestine, for example, Christians are still operating schools, universities and hospitals, he said. “What we need now is unity, to work as a system, to be united and to be unifying,” Abs added.
Bearing witness, in the region and the diasporas
Speaking from the United Kingdom and the Middle East and African diaspora, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos described how the lived experience of Christians in the region can serve as a basis for witness and also advocacy in the present day.
“A thousand years ago, there was an attempt to eradicate the Coptic language and culture. It’s beautiful today, to see that a thousand years later, we’ve taken our own experience of persecution and are able to use it now to advocate for the most vulnerable communities, when we see the suffering of others,” he reflected.
“In some ways, the uprisings in the Middle East, and even COVID-19 — have brought us closer together. We are a fractured body, but it still is the body of Christ, and we still have a responsibility to be one, as much as we can be,” he concluded.
As the group then looked towards the next WCC assembly, linkages between history, tradition, and current realities came to the fore.
Dr Audeh Quawas from Jordan, member of the WCC Central Committee and part of the WCC Assembly Planning Committee brought updates on the plans that are currently taking shape, and stressed the importance of Middle East churches taking an active part in the event.
“We have to come prepared. I am hopeful that many Middle East voices can be heard at the assembly,” Quawas said.
“We know that we are experiencing some advances in ecumenical relations, and at the same time we have old and new challenges that we need to express in a timely and clear way,” observed the Very Rev. Archimandrite Jack Khalil of the University of Balamand in Lebanon.
“Yet it is something very beautiful, the churches of the Middle East that uphold the mission of the gospel to the whole world. That has kept the whole tradition, the seed from the gospel, intact, as the churches are called to continue their holy witness, whether it is here in the Middle East, or in the diasporas,” he concluded
WCC central committee meeting 2021
The 11th Assembly of the WCC in Karlsruhe, Germany