The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia have spoken out in support of Christians in the Middle East. Archbishop Justin was in Moscow for a three-day visit, during which he formally presented and introduced the new Chaplain to St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Moscow, the Revd Malcolm Rogers, to the Patriarch as the Archbishop’s Apokrisiarios, or representative.
In a joint statement, issued after their meeting, the Archbishop and Patriarch appealed to the international community to “render speedy help to support the Christian and other populations of the Middle East”.
Citing Romans 8: 35-37, they thanked God for the meeting and the opportunity to “with one voice before the entire world bear witness to our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for faith in Christ.”
They said: “We cannot remain indifferent to the afflictions of our sisters and brothers, for ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together with it: if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’”
They spoke of the mass killings, barbaric destruction of churches, the desecration of holy sites and the expulsion of millions from their homes as manifestations of the persecution of Christians “in many countries of the Middle East and Africa” and said: “Our hearts are pained by the mass exodus of the Christian population from those places where the Good News began to be spread throughout the world. Christians also suffer more subtle forms of discrimination where life is made so difficult that it is easier for them to leave their ancient homeland than to stay.”
They called for “guarantees of security” and “the restoration of the social infrastructure and living accommodation” and “the setting up of conditions for clergy to carry out their ministry and the restoration of destroyed churches” to retain the Christian presence in the Middle East and the return of refugees to the region.
“We appeal to the international community to render speedy help to support the Christian and other populations of the Middle East,” they said. “Wide-scale humanitarian aid is needed for those who are suffering and for the vast numbers of refuges, including those who have ended up in Europe and America.”
And they called for “preventative measures against the ideology of extremism” that has “spread throughout the world . . . like an epidemic.” They said: “We call upon the world’s religious and political leaders to unite in their efforts to come up with an effective response to extremism. An important aspect of this co-operation is interreligious dialogue. Difference in doctrine ought not to serve as an obstacle to representatives of various religions living in peace and harmony, which are the pledge of a good future for the whole world.”
During his “pastoral, ecumenical and political” visit, which concludes today (Wednesday), Archbishop Justin visited the Postgraduate Institute of St Cyril and St Methodius, a theological school attached to the Patriarchate. He also attended a reception and gave an address to invited guests at the residence of the British Ambassador to Russia; and met with senior Russian political figures.
On Monday, the Archbishop took part in a Question and Answer session at St Andrew’s Church in Moscow and preached at a service of compline. St Andrew’s dates from the late 19th Century and was built for the English-speaking community in Moscow. During the Soviet era, when religious institutions were supressed, the church was used as a recording studio for the record label Melodia. Since its re-establishment as a place of worship the church has become a multi-national English-speaking Anglican presence in the city.
Part of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe, the church welcomed the Revd Malcolm Rogers as its new Chaplain in September this year. In addition to his role as Chaplain to St Andrews, Father Malcolm also holds the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative – or Apokrisiarios – to Patriarch Kirill.
Archbishop Justin and Patriarch Kirill last met in 2016, Buckingham Palace for a meeting with The Queen.