A Historical Meeting Between the Patriarch of Russia and the Maronite Patriarch

It was a historical meeting in Bkerke between Patriarch Smolisk Kyrill First, patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia for the Greek Othodox and the maronite Patriarch His Beatitude Mar Beshara Peter Al Rahi, in the presence of all of the seven catholic patriarchs of the East, His Beatitude Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, His excellence the Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zaspkin, several religious figures and the accompanying delegation from Russia. 

Patriarch Rahi entered the main saloon with his guests at the sound of hymns and prayers of the choir of the Lebanese Maronite Order. Then Patriarch Kyrill was introduced to the catholic patriarchs of the East and he expressed his joy to be welcomed in Bkerke at the time of the twentieth conference of the board of catholic patriarchs of all the East, which was discussing the situation of the Christians in the Middle East. He expressed his contentment with regards to the mutual collaboration between the catholic, orthodox and protestant churches, and suggested the possibility of the collaboration with the church of Russia in order to preserve and enhance the Christian presence in the Middle East, as it has ever been. 

Patriarch Al Rahi gave the following welcoming speech: ” Your Holiness, my brothers the patriarchs and I are very happy to welcome you, as we are holding our twentieth conference having as subject for this year: the situation of the Christians in the countries of the Middle East, in the light of the recommendations of the special committee of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which was called for by his Holiness the Pope Benedict XVI and which was held in Rome in October 2010. 

We feel a great need today for the collaboration between the catholic, orthodox and protestant churches. And we would like to discuss with your Holiness the possibility of collaboration with the church in Russia, in order to safeguard the Christian presence in the Middle East against immigration and to enhance such presence and make it more effective, to remain within its societies, as it has been throughout the history of its existence since the days of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the blossoming of the church, like the yeast in the flour:

- facing the political conflicts in the region and the attacks against our parishes, and the fear of what is called “the Arab Spring” leading to the rule of parties threatening to shake the region and the coexistence between people, for which we have been working steadily,

- facing the difficulties witnessed by Christians in the region with regards to freedom of worship and conscience and citizenship rights, knowing that we have been working continuously to realize the growth of our society along with Muslims who are basically moderate, 

- facing the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab conflicts and their effects on the countries of the Middle East, and the frustration of the Palestinians from the right of return to their homeland according to the UN resolution 194, and their right to found a Palestinian state next to the Israeli state according to resolution 191, both resolutions issued back in 1948, and the amount of danger on the region resulting from the request of Israel to the UN to recognize Israel as a “Jewish State”. 

We thank your Holiness for this historical visit and for this quick encounter, we hope that our discussions will continue with you and with your church, for a permanent collaboration in favor of the Christians and their countries in the Middle East , in order for the ministry of the Holy Gospel to remain the light for the salvation of all people, and for the communion of the churches, for life discussions between religions, for the Christian witness for the truth and love, to guarantee a future of peace, justice, coexistence in mutual respect, collaboration and the participation to public national life.” 

Then patriarch Kyrill gave a speech during which he said:” I thank your Beatitude and I express my deep appreciation for this meeting especially that we have met with the Heads of the churches of all the East. This meeting occurs at a critical moment, where the situation of the Christians in the Middle East is under discussion, and therefore the presence of Christianity in the Middle East. My thoughts converge with yours, brothers: the situation of the Christians in the Middle East. We are facing persecution and violence after the imbalances that happened in the region. Such changes unite people to found a society based on justice, better than what it currently is. Such issues require special relationships between us because in some cases these issues would back up other issues that are not necessarily in accordance with people’s desires. There is persecution and violence against Christians and we cannot remain silent about what has been going on. We ask the whole world to look at the events in these countries that are living difficult times, in order to avoid a shrinkage of the Christian presence after the unfolding of events. We have a painful picture in front of us about the situation of the Christians in this region. The Middle East cannot be emptied from those who founded it. Christians and Muslims have been living together for more than fifteen centuries. In our generation, the generation of culture which embraces human rights, it is not acceptable nor conceivable to fight people in their homes for such causes.” 

Patriarch Kyrill continued his speech saying:” I pray with all the churches for the safeguarding of the holy places, so that they will never become museums one day, and in order to reach such a goal we would like to work all together, Heads of the churches in the Middle East. You should know that I was very pleased to meet with you today and to talk to you. I believe that the Orthodox church in the Middle East along with the church of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and all the Christian churches, grant a support to the Christians of the whole world. They need to work together for peace and justice especially in this region.” 

After the meeting, both patriarchs exchanged souvenir gifts, and patriarch Al Rahi thanked Patriarch Kyrill for his visit and said:” we are very pleased today to receive His Holiness patriarch Kyrill at the maronite patriarchate, and our joy is even bigger with the presence of the seven catholic patriarchs of all the East. In our yearly twentieth conference we are in the process of studying the subject that was evoked by the Synod for the Middle East about the church in the Middle East. I have already expressed on behalf of the patriarchs a word about the subject and its requirements to his holiness. We thank him for his visit and for the speech that he addressed to us as patriarchs, I also thank him for the nice souvenir that he brought for the patriarchate from Russia.”

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