NCC DELEGATION ARRIVES IN MIDDLE EAST ON 12-DAY MISSION
April 18, 2002, ISTANBUL, Turkey - Embarking on a 12-day journey to
those people affected by the violence occurring in Palestine and Israel, 14
American church leaders spent the first day of the journey in preparation
and by meeting with Orthodox Church leaders in Istanbul, Turkey.
The U.S. delegation, headed by Dr. Bob Edgar (United Methodist), General
Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
(NCC),and by Elenie Huszagh (Greek Orthodox), the President of the NCC, received
first the advice and blessing of His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical
Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of more than 250 million
Orthodox Christians worldwide.
Discussing the situation in the Middle East, Patriarch Bartholomew,
mid-week had sent letters to both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the American church leaders, "We
bless your mission to the Middle East because it is a mission of peace and
solidarity...We are hopeful that you will be able to contribute essentially
to the settlement of the critical situation there."
He cited an interfaith meeting of religious leaders convened last week
Turkey that called for reconciliation and peace, and condemned terrorism
and the violation of human rights. The Ecumenical Patriarch urged the U.S.
delegation "to speak the truth" when in Palestine and Israel and spoke of
his particular concern for those trapped in the Church of the Nativity.
Mrs. Huszagh, an American Greek Orthodox Christian from Oregon, commented
on the significance of the meeting: "Meeting with His All Holiness helped to
focus our efforts and prepared us through a better understanding of the
diversity of peoples and traditions in the region. To stand with him, to
hear of his work for the people of the Middle East, and to pray with him
gives impetus for the task ahead." The meeting with the Ecumenical
Patriarch culminated with those present saying the Lord's Prayer in all languages
represented. "He reminds us," Mrs. Huszagh continued, "that from our
diversity of languages, we speak with one voice for peace."
The delegation traveled in the afternoon to meet with the leaders of
Syrian Orthodox Church and later in the evening with leaders of the
Armenian Orthodox Church. The Syrian Metropolitan, His Eminence Mor Filuksinos Yusuf
Cetin, Patriarchal Vicar of Istanbul and Ankara, welcomed U.S. church
representatives in worship and with a lunch served to the Americans and the
Syrian priests and laity assembled. The Patriarch took particular joy in
greeting Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, Patriarchal Vicar of the
Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States and
a key member of the American delegation. Telling the group that he believed
its mission had been inspired by God, Metropolitan Cetin of Istanbul stated
through a translator, "We pray that the Holy City [Jerusalem] really will
bea 'City of Peace.'"
The evening meeting with the Patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church for
Istanbul and all Turkey, His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan, also
began with all joining in worship. Led by one of the delegation members,
Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Office of the
Armenian Church in America, the Americans joined in dialogue with the
Patriarch during a meal with numerous council members, deacons, and priests
of the church. Telling the group that he had lived and studied in the Holy
Land, Patriarch Mutafyan reminded all present that "this [the violence] has
to stop...so that people can start confidence-building and resume talking
Earlier in the day, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had reminded the
that he had met last month in Washington with President Bush and Secretary
of State Powell. The Patriarch expressed his concern for the American
people in the wake of the September 11 disaster. "Last month I visited Ground Zero
and I prayed...and I spoke on the meaning of our common prayer." This led
Dr. Edgar of the NCC to conclude, "So it is in prayer that we Americans
come now to express our concern for, and our solidarity with, the peoples of the
The U.S. delegation leaves on Friday, April 19, for Beirut, where the
will be hosted by the Middle East Council of Churches and have meetings
with religious and political leaders, including Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq
Hariri. The group will then continue on to Syria and Jordan and has
scheduled meetings with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and King Abdullah
of Jordan before arriving in the West Bank and Israel on April 23.