Peace in Syria - with God's help29.03.2012 | 18:40
The name of the Ukrainian priest Zechariah Kerstyuk is well known to readers of the Orthodox press. In Libya, he served the liturgy under NATO bombs. In Syria, he communicated not only with Bashar al-Assad and Patriarch Ignatius IV, but also with ordinary Syrians. The Father believes that the war in Syria will destroy the thousand-year good-neighborly relations between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. The Arab world is being pushed towards open hostility with the Christians. He told about this in an exclusive interview to GTimes.
During the NATO bombing of Tripoli, I served in the Orthodox church of St. Andrew at the Embassy of Ukraine in Libya. I have recently received a permit for another trip to Libya. April 4, God willing, I'll go there. I was unpleasantly surprised by the reaction of some people, including those who deal with Syria and Libya. So, these people ask me, "Where did you get a visa, Father?" That's strange. I believe that if we are united by one common cause, the cause of the peacemaking process in the Arab world, we must help each other, rather than spending ourselves on suspicions and speculations. At many events and round table discussions throughout the Middle East I visited, I've heard the same thing: the U.S. and NATO are so bad, and Bashar al-Assad and Sergey
Lavrov are so good. However, when the case turned to the delegation to Syria or Libya, for example, their enthusiasm quickly waned.
What is your attitude to the Russian peacekeeping mission in Syria?
As the priest and an Orthodox man I was impressed by Russia's actions with respect to Syria. Our brothers - Orthodox Christians of the Antiochian Patriarchate - are living in Syria. Now, our Syrian brothers are in trouble. We, the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church, cannot stay aside. As the Orthodox priest, I'm not engaged in politics and I don't like to talk about it. I don't want to talk about such things as the League of Arab States, the Council of the Gulf countries and the UN. We are more concerned about Christianophobia, which recently swept over the Middle East and several African countries: Sudan, Egypt, and Nigeria. We, the priests, are praying for an end to bloodshed and doing everything possible to end bloodshed in Syria and the Middle East. We sincerely hope the bloodshed ends.
What is the cause of the ruin of thousand-year peace between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East?
In the Middle East today, they are talking that the West wants to destroy the initial spirit of the Muslim Arabs. In this regard, undermining of the foundations takes place. The Sunnis are being set against Shiites, and vice versa. As the Orthodox priest, I am not happy from this. But I engage in another problem - the growing Christianophobia in the Middle East and Africa. In Sudan, seven hundred thousand Christians were recently deprived of citizenship and outlawed. Khartoum demanded the Sudanese Christians to leave southern Sudan till April 8. Otherwise, they will be killed and their property will be confiscated. In Nigeria, the Islamists of "Boko Haram" have blown about a hundred Christian churches. Twenty churches were destroyed in Egypt. The same process in Syria. They want to fully de-Christianize Syria.
What can you say about the situation with Christians in Sudan?
Christians of southern Sudan have realized that they could rely only on the will of God. I'm speaking as a priest. In principle, they were ready for it. Every Christian, if he really believes in God, is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of faith and sincere love for God. The Christians of southern Sudan are now faced with a choice: either to continue to believe in God, or die. They prefer to believe in God. Therefore, we have witnessed their persecution by the local Islamists and President Omar al-Bashir. I think no one will help them. Because if someone really wanted to help them, he would have helped long ago. Persecution of Christians in Sudan is the only part of the whole picture of de-Christianization.