His Holiness Mar Awa 111

On Tuesday 10th May 2022, a luncheon was held in honour of the first visit to Australia of His Holiness Mar Awa 111, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. He is also the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch of the East Apostolic See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. He is a first-generation Assyrian-American. At 16, he was ordained as a sub-deacon, and the following year became a deacon. He was ordained by Mar Dinkha IV. On 30 November 2008, he was elevated to the rank of Bishop, taking the name Mar Awa Royel (in Assyrian, Awa means father). He became the first American-born Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East.

His Holiness Mar Awa III, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East

As Bishop, Mar Awa made many attempts to raise awareness for the plight of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, especially the dire situation facing Christian minority communities in Iraq and Syria, and those living along the Khabour River in NE Syria, where the terrorist organization ISIL attacked in late February 2015, and led to thousands of displaced people and a hostage crisis.

On 8th September 2021, Bishop Mar Awa was elected as the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch to the apostolic see of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and was consecrated in Iraq on 13 September 2021 which is also the Feast of the Holy Cross. The Catholicos-Patriarch is now permanently located in Erbil (KRG), Iraq.

The luncheon in honour of Mar Awa 111 was MC’d by Cr Joseph Haweil. He was a wonderful host, along with clergy and youthful members of the Assyrian Church of the East in Victoria. The welcome and hospitality extended was particularly noteworthy.

The Victorian Council of Churches was represented by the Executive Officer, Rev Sandy Boyce.

His Holiness Mar Awa 111 at the luncheon, His Grace Mar Abris Youkhana and His Grace Mar Benyamin Elya, along with VCC EO Rev Sandy Boyce.

Distinguished guests included:

His Grace Mar Abris Youkhana, Bishop of Kirkuk and Diana – Assyrian Church of the East

His Grace Mar Benyamin Elya, Bishop of Victoria and New Zealand – Assyrian Church of the East.

Hon Ros Spence MP, Minister for Multicultural Affairs (and other portfolios) and State Member for Yuroke

Mr Andrew Giles, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Shadow Minister Assisting for Immigration and Citizenship (and one other portfolio) and Federal Member for Scullin

Mrs Maria Vamvakinou MP, Federal Member for Calwell

His Grace Bishop Evmenios of Kerasounta, Archdiocesan Vicar for the District of Northcote and Assistant Bishop to His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

The Catholic Church was represented by the Very Rev’d Fr Denis Stanley EV, Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The Anglican Church was represented by the Rt Rev’d Bishop Paul White, Anglican Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by the Very Rev’d Archpriest Dr Peter A.L.Hill, Director of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Institute. (Since 2016, Mar Awa 111 has been co-chair of the Bilateral Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East).

The guest list was impressive!

Distinguished guests were invited to make short speeches, with a keynote address by His Holiness Mar Awa 111.

(more photos and information on a post about the event, on the Assyrian Church Vic NZ Facebook page)

The Assyrian Church of the East has a long history, dating back to the apostolic age. A fascinating and informative overview of the history of the Assyrian Church of the East can be read here. Definitely worth a read!

A summary account of the last century is also revelatory. The Assyrian Church and Nation suffered greatly at the hands of the Muslim powers during WW1. In 1918, the catholicos-patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun XIX (1887-1918) was martyred by the Kurdish chieftain Ismail Agha (Simko), and the Assyrians were left at the mercy of the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish neighbors. With the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians were left without a homeland of their own and the promises of the Western superpowers were forgotten and left unfulfilled. In 1920, the majority of the Assyrians were moved to the Bakuba Camp near Baghdad, being moved from Urmia, Iran. They lived in horrible, sub-human conditions; tens of thousands lost their lives along the way to Bakuba from 1918 to 1920.

Successively, the Assyrian people were able to recover themselves after the creation of the independent state of Iraq, however, without any claim to the land and home of their ancient ancestors. Later, in 1933 another wave of atrocities were perpetrated against the Assyrians of Iraq, this time on the part of the Iraqi monarchy. A group of Assyrians were forced to take refuge in the then-French colony of Syria. A confrontation with Iraqi forces caused the death of some few thousands of Assyrians. The late Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (1908-1975), patriarch of the Assyrian Church, was exiled along with the patriarchal household after the 1933 massacre and settled for a time on the Island of Cyprus by the British.

The patriarch then moved to the US, settling first in Chicago, in 1940. From then on, the seat of the catholicos-patriarch of the Assyrian Church would remain in the diaspora.

The early 1970’s and 1990’s – after the first Gulf War – saw a great wave of migration of Assyrians from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. These migrations included the establishment of a large Assyrian diaspora predominantly in the United States and also in Europe.

In 1975, the patriarchal see became vacant with the death of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII. The Assyrian bishops gathered in London, England in 1976 and elected a new patriarch who took the name of Mar Dinkha IV, the then bishop of Iran. (Mar Dinkha IV presided over the ordination of Mar Awa 111). The newly elected patriarch made immediate contact with the Assyrians living in the countries of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon soon after his election. The patriarchal see was moved to Chicago in 1980.

The great majority of the Assyrians are to be found in the diaspora rather than in their ancestral homeland of Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq. Centuries of persecution and forced migration have decimated the once-numerous populace, however the community continues to preserve its ancient history and heritage.

Today, the descendants of the ancient Assyrians who populated the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ are found all over the globe including in Australia.


Inclusive Narrative project

The Creating an Inclusive Narrative project has published its findings. It is the culmination of a national conversation that aimed to:

* advance the discourse on social cohesion by re-examining prevailing conceptions underpinning human nature and society and articulating constructive characteristics that can draw us closer to realising our common humanity, unify thoughts and actions, facilitate harmonious interactions, increase inclusion and a sense of belonging. It will seek to bring together representatives from a broad array of backgrounds, perspectives and sections of society and envisions the engagement in dialogue will be a unifying process in itself.

* synthesise the most prevalent and unifying insights, ideas and descriptions of our common identity and shared values which can move us towards strengthening social cohesion and inclusion in our country. A formal document will be produced, which will be offered to our country as a resource and framework for social endeavours. It can be utilised to foster an ongoing conversation at the grassroots to national levels of society, encourage and motivate neighbourly interactions, and contribute towards the thinking which shapes and inspires community projects, government policy and public opinion.

The publication of the project is now available for download! It is the culmination of fifty nationwide round tables held over the past year. The publication captures the insights and experience distilled from hundreds of roundtable participants, representing communities and groups of all kinds. It conveys the vision, hopes and aspirations of Australians to foster a socially cohesive society. It describes a narrative of our past and current reality, but also a narrative of the future – the kind of society participants envision for generations to come.

This publication is a gift from the Australian Baha’i community to Australian society. It is the sincere hope of those involved in this consultative process that its findings and content are helpful and applicable in every neighbourhood, community, organisation, institution and in government.

Access the Creating an Inclusive Narrative Publication here.

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Zadok Papers

The Autumn 2022 issue of Zadok Perspectives and Papers is on ‘Public Speaking’. Though basically intra-Christian, includes a fine article by famed Jewish ABC broadcaster Rachael Kohn in dialogue with a range of religious authors on Fear and Faith, reviving the notion that if you fear God you need fear no other. And Megan Powell-du Toit’s imagery of Jesus’ death tearing the Temple curtain of Jew-Gentile, priestly-lay and male-female divides has powerful public impact. We have a finely nuanced review essay by Nathan Campbell on Stephen McAlpine’s Being the Good Bad Guys, which deservedly won the Australian Christian Book of the Year Award. McAlpine critiques the Missional Church movement from which he comes, for expecting that once the barbaric cultural and colonial barnacles of Christendom were cleared from its hull it would be allowed fair passage and mooring rights into now secularised harbours, cities, universities and media. (And much more – read more here).

(adapted from the Ethos blog article by Gordon Preece)

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7th May is World Labyrinth Day. It is an annual event sponsored by The Labyrinth Society as a worldwide action to “walk as one at 1” local time to create a rolling wave of peaceful energy across the globe.

Every year on the first Saturday in May (in 2022 it will be 7th May), thousands of people around the world participate in this moving meditation for world peace.

In this time of war and conflict in so many countries, perhaps making space for intentional walking for peace may be a small but positive response to our fractured world. If there’s no labyrinth close to you, consider a ‘slow mindful walk’ instead.

Inner peace, outer peace.

Labyrinths in Melbourne and Victoria

Labyrinth prayer – a brief history
In A.D. 324 Christians placed a labyrinth on the floor of their church in Algiers. Although Christians must have been using the labyrinth earlier, this is the first historical record we have of the Christian use of the labyrinth. Since that time labyrinths have been prayed, studied, danced, traced and drawn as Christians have sought to use this spiritual tool to draw closer to God.

Using the labyrinth involves moving one’s body and opening one’s heart to Jesus. All you have to do is follow the path and you will find the center. Unlike a maze the labyrinth has no tricks in it. A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing oneself at the threshold, following the single path to the center, spending time in the center, following the same pathway out the threshold and then responding to the experience.
If this is your first encounter with the labyrinth you may wonder, “What is the correct way for me to do this?” Relax! Pray on the labyrinth the way you like to pray in other places. Have a conversation with God about the things that matter most to you, offer words and gestures of praise, or present your prayer requests to Christ; there is no “right” way to pray just as there is no “right” way to pray the labyrinth! If you still aren’t sure how to get started, simply repeat, “Thy will be done” as you move on the labyrinth. Another simple way to pray the labyrinth is to pray for others on the way in, enjoy God’s presence in the center and pray for yourself as you move back towards the threshold.
The word “labyrinth” is not found in the Bible, but themes of a following God’s way, spiritual journeys, and enjoying God’s presence—all central to labyrinth experiences—are found throughout Scripture. Two verses that can be used while praying the labyrinth are, “You show me the path of life, In your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) and Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6).
We are currently in a period of historic labyrinth revival. Churches, retreat centers and Christian camps are placing these prayer tools inside and outside. Christians all over the world are installing labyrinths in their yards and gardens. Many are using the labyrinths as a ministry tool, bringing portable versions to prisons, national denominational conferences and church group meetings.
Many people are being drawn closer to Jesus, experiencing healing and gaining spiritual clarity as they pray on its path.

Walking the Labyrinth – a prayer
To your open mouth we come, pausing with expectancy. Posing questions, praying dreams, gath’ring courage, hope and faith, Circle, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Stepping in, the way is sure, Pacing comes in its own time. Breathing slows, awareness dawns, Trusting, longing fill our hearts. Pathway, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
In the center we are held, deeply knowing, deeply known. Healing, wholeness rising up, Wisdom, insight overflow. Center, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Back we go, the way we came, Weaving, winding in and out. Moving t’ward the world beyond, Op’ning hearts to needs perceiv’d. Pathway, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Once outside we gaze within, wond’ring at the peace we know. Spending moments filled with awe, taking leave with strength renewed. Circle, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Text: Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion ©1998


TPVs campaign

The following statement on the needs and futures of people on TPVs has been launched, and a copy has been sent to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The statement has been signed by a number of prominent faith leaders around Australia. Additional names are welcome to be added (contact #setthemfree #welcomerefugees.
Early next week further resources will be available to support this advocacy work. This will include a video case study featuring a person who is on a TPV, a website that assists you to send messages to your local MP, and some photos. It is hoped these resources will enable us all to keep this issue in the public arena in the lead up to the election.
Please share this statement widely.

Statement from Australian faith leaders 29 April 2022

We urge our political leaders to reconsider the needs and futures of people who are still on Temporary Protection Visas. It is time to offer people on TPVs permanent protection.

We raise this matter cautiously, mindful of how fraught discussion of such matters has been in previous Federal Elections.

But we must speak because compassion and care for others are universal values shared by all major faith traditions. As people of faith, we bring this perspective to our consideration of all things, including public policy around protecting refugees and people seeking asylum.

Hence, we advocated for and welcomed recent steps to release most Medevac refugees from hotel detention; to move forward with the New Zealand resettlement plan; and to increase the number of Afghan refugees being offered protection.

We speak now, relatedly, out of deep concern about the current division between the two major parties on the issue of temporary protection visas.

These TPVs serve no public policy purpose and have lost community support since their introduction two decades ago.

Our pastoral knowledge is of people who have been living with stressful insecurity on TPV’s in communities around Australia. We hear their prayers and know their fears. Having sought refuge, they just want to belong and contribute. With their families and friends, they are part of community groups and neighborhoods. Many have found jobs, work hard, pay their taxes, and have embraced Australia as their home.

COVID-19 has required many rethinks and reminded us all of what is truly important in life. There is a wonderful opportunity for our political leaders to now embrace a group of people who want to put down roots, build lives and work hard for Australia’s best future. Like generations of migrants and refugees before them, this group will become an integral part of the Australian story.

It is as a voice for the relatively voiceless that we are moved to write to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in support of a more unifying and compassionate national policy on this important matter.

Signed by:
Sister Brigid Arthur, The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project
Bishop Paul Barker, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
Dr Greg Barton, Deakin University
Dr Makarand Bhagwat, President Hindu Council
Dr Graeme Blackman, President, Victorian Council of Churches
Tamara Domicelj, Country Director Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, co-Chair of the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum
Bishop Genieve Blackwell, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
Revd Sandy Boyce, Executive Officer, Victorian Council of Churches
Fr. Frank Brennan SJ, Rector Newman College
The Hon. Diana Bryant, AO,QC
Revd David Bullock, Director of Mission and Ministries, Baptist Union of Victoria
Professor Des Cahill, Religions for Peace Australia
Dr. Leslie Cannold, author and ethicist
The Most Reverend Geoff Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide and Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia
Mr Tim Cartwright, APM and Advisory Board of the Australian Intercultural Society
Revd Debra Saffrey-Collins, Head of Chaplaincy and Diocesan Partnerships, Brotherhood of St. Laurence
Revd Tim Costello, Executive Director of Micah Australia Dr Diana Cousens, Vice Chair, Buddhist Council of Victoria
Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen, Bishop of Parramatta and Chair of Catholic Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Brisbane Bhakta Dasa, International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Imam Alaa Elzokm, Imam of Heidelberg Mosque
Adel Salman, President Islamic Council of Victoria
Celia Andrews, Anglican, Perth
Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer Jesuit Social Services, co-Chair of the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum
Dr Adrian Evans, Emeritus Professor of Law, Monash University
Ms. Wendy Francis, on behalf of Australian Christian Lobby
Rabbi Ralph Genende
Revd Scott Holmes, Chaplain at the Brotherhood of St Laurence
Bishop Philip Huggins, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture
Mr. Ahmet Keskin, Executive Director of the Australian Intercultural Society The Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, Dean of Melbourne
Dr. Mohamed Mohideen, Islamic Council of Victoria
Bishop Kate Prowd, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
Dr Susan Riley, Former Deputy Lord Mayor, City of Melbourne
Revd Helen Summers, Director, The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne
Jasbir Singh Suropada, Chairperson, Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria
Barney Zwartz, Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity
Harold Zwier, Jewish community
Brenton Jayatilaka, Anglican Parish of City on a Hill
Revd Gemma Baseley, Anglican Diocese of Perth, Social Responsibility Committee
Br Peter Carrroll FMS, President Catholic Religious Australia
Shaykh Mohammad Ramzan, President Victorian Islamic Commission of Research, Fatwa and Charity
Rev. Charles Balnaves, PP

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Climate Change

“Easter is a celebration of life,” the letter reads. “In order to celebrate life all people need to flourish, but we acknowledge that Australians have been enduring dark days – with droughts, bushfires, severe storms and massive floods.”

The church leaders reflect that damage to the climate is a key contributing factor to these disasters. “Yet among these shared struggles there is Easter, a message of hope,” the letter reads. “The greater challenge of preventing such disasters in the future requires systemic transformation.”

The letter urges government leaders to heed the advice of climate experts to reduce carbon emissions.

“Churches along with other institutions in civil society and the business community must examine our own practices so we can help reverse damage to the climate,” reads the letter.

Among the signatories of the letter is Bishop Philip Huggins, director of the Centre for Ecumenical Studies at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.

He joins other churches leaders in urging Australia’s government leaders to stop the nation’s climate change isolationism.

“Consistent with the purposes of the Paris Agreement, Australia now has obligations with a timeline,” reflected Huggins. “You would not know this from current pre-election discourse.”

Huggins believes the obligations are entirely sensible. “There is no hiding place from the consequences of climate change,” he said. “We must contain carbon emissions if we are to prevent global temperatures rising beyond the 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement.”

Yet Australian politicians are not yet connected with this reality, Huggins added. “The justice issue is that those who have had least to do with causing climate change will continue to suffer the worst consequences,” he said. “That includes our own young people as well as our neighbours in the Pacific.”

On a personal level, Huggins said he looks at his grandchildren and fears for their future. “We are still in the early days of this election campaign,” he said. “The politics around climate change must become more just and more internationally responsible.”

Huggings insisted that proceeding on a path that feeds global warming would be extraordinarily stupid as well as unjust. 

“More inspired leadership, in coming weeks, would give our young people and our Pacific neighbours the possibility of real optimism and hope for the future,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

Source: WCC News


Faith Leaders: Ukraine

A joint statement by Faith Leaders on a diplomatic solution to Ukraine conflict, published by National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA), 7th March 2022

History shows us that, sooner or later, a negotiation silences the weapons.

Sooner or later wars cease. People stop killing other people .

The best thing we can do for the people of Ukraine and Russia is to encourage this through the United Nations, with other nations of goodwill.

The time is now. We see the suffering. We see the distress across the planet.

We know where this leads – the further wars go the faster is the deterioration in moral behavior and the greater the number of deaths, the greater the destroyed environments and the increased number of refugees .

There is a phrase – “the epiphany of the human face”.

The living face; the face of the dead .

It is time. We have seen the faces of the living, now dead.

We know the traumatic and persistent effects of past wars.

And there are already millions of refugees without a new place to call home.

We know the pressure on Australia’s refugee intake , as this conflict adds demand whilst ,as one instance .UNICEF predicts the death by starvation( and related causes)of 1 million children under 5 in Afghanistan during 2022!

The political energy must now be invested in international diplomacy.

This is the urgent request of faith leaders.

Our faiths are global. They cross national boundaries.We have connections and friendships across these boundaries .

At the heart of each of our global faiths is an ethic of compassion.

As a matter of compassion and with a unifying consciousness, we urge further Australian political and diplomatic leadership now.

A statement prepared by the Convenors of ‘Justice for Refugees’ and the initiators with others of #SetThemFree.
* Bishop Philip Huggins, Director of Centre for Ecumenical Studies, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture; Convenor,Anglican Church Working Group on Refugee Issues.
* Imam Alaa Elzokm, Imam of Heidelberg Mosque.
* Rabbi Shamir Caplam,Beit Aharon Synagogue.


Yom Hashoah 2022

‘Remembering Together’

Yom Hashoah is an annual commemoration of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the heroism of survivors and rescuers. Registration here.

In Victoria, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) will host an online inclusive virtual community on Wednesday April 27 at 7.30pm. The event will be an online commemoration with poignant testimonies, the participation of a range of Jewish students, and messages of support from communal members, leaders and affiliates.

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All Pharaohs Must Fall

All Pharaohs Must Fall: 

Some Thoughts About the Passover Holiday

By Rabbi Brant Rosen, Tzedek Chicago

This Passover, I thought a great deal about the exceedingly radical message at the heart of the story we tell and retell around the seder table every year.

In particular, I thought about what the story tells us about power, about the ways the powerful wield their power against the less powerful, and about the inevitability of corrupt power’s eventual fall. And I’m thinking about what is possibly the most radical message of all: that there is a Power greater, yes even greater than human power.

Empires, of course, have perennially failed to heed this message. Powerful empires have come and gone, but the Power that Makes for Liberation still manages to live to fight another day. Will the Pharaohs among us ever learn?

There’s no getting around the fact that the Passover story is not a neat, tidy or particularly pleasant story. That’s because – as we all know too well – the powerful never give up their power without a fight. No one ever made this point better or more eloquently than Frederick Douglass when he said in 1857:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

A century later, Dr. Martin Luther King said much the same thing in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Passover thus poses a special challenge to those who wield power and privilege. What would it mean if the powerful truly took to heart our tradition’s most challenging teachings: that God hears the cries of the enslaved, that God is a God of Liberation, that God stands with the oppressed, not the oppressor and demands that we do as well?

As well: are those who benefit from Empire prepared to confront the ways this power is wielded in any number of oppressive ways at home and abroad? Might we possibly be willing to contemplate this truth: that even the mightiest Empire will eventually, inevitably go the way of history?

Indeed, if there is any message we learn from Passover, it’s that, to paraphrase the words of poet Kevin Coval, all Pharaohs must eventually fall:

Wake in this new day
we will all die soon
let us live while we have the chance
while we have this day
to build and plot and devise
to create and make the world
this time for us
this time for all
this time the pharaohs must fall

May the Passover story inspire us all to be bearers of that vision in our lives and in our world. 

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Letter to Moscow

An Open Letter to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Moscow
From The Rev. Dr Keith Clements

8 March 2022

Your Holiness,

I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

During these recent days I have been recalling very clearly the visit which in May 1999 Your Holiness and I together with other church and ecumenical figures made to Belgrade. We met with President Milosevic to present and discuss with him a proposal, drawn up by the Vienna Group of which both of us were members, for ending the conflict over Kosovo. Belgrade at that time was under aerial bombardment by NATO forces. In Belgrade and elsewhere we saw at first hand the effects of such attacks and our visit involved not a little danger to ourselves. But we went willingly, with the aim of contributing towards a cessation of hostilities and the creation of an opportunity for peace. This remains with me as a very positive memory of ecumenical fellowship in pursuit of peace, for which I am deeply grateful.

Today, in Ukraine, we are witnessing attacks on a country and its people, on a far greater scale than anything seen in Europe since 1945. This time, it has to be said in plain truth and in sorrow, the military operations are being carried out not by NATO but by Russian forces under the orders of President Putin. The devastation being wreaked upon Ukraine, its people and its infrastructure, the displacement and flight of civilians now being numbered by the million, are being witnessed by the whole world. It is a situation which cannot be justified by any Christian spirit or conscience, and for the sake of the people of Ukraine and of Russia must be ended without delay.

In the same spirit which led us to visit Belgrade in 1999, I appeal to you for a word which acknowledges and addresses this situation in terms befitting a great Church of Jesus Christ. Thus far, we in the world outside have heard words about the desire for peace, but not about the things that make for peace: first of all an acknowledgment of the wrong that is being committed against the people of Ukraine, without which no genuine movement towards peace can begin. It is known that there are voices in your Church and in other Christian communities in Russia, which are already expressing these aspirations towards repentance and the hope which repentance brings. I and others hope and pray that you will hear, defend and uphold them.

Many of us are well aware of the real historical factors which are involved in the relationship of Russia and Ukraine. We also realise that all countries, including those in the West, will need to reflect on their policies in Europe over recent decades, and be ready to learn from past mistakes. Moreover we are aware of the constraints which Your Holiness experiences, as leader of a Church with such close ties to the Russian state. But ‘the word of God is not chained’ (2 Timothy 2:9) and history shows us that there are moments when the Church is challenged to confess, perhaps at great cost but greatly strengthening its witness to the love of God for all people, where its truest and highest allegiance lies. Christians are called to place above all claims of earthly powers their loyalty to Jesus Christ to whom alone ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given’ (Matthew 28:18).

With all those who eagerly await such a word from you, and with continuing prayers for the guidance and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit upon Your Holiness, I remain,

In Christ,

Keith Clements

Former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches 1997-2005

Keith Clement is former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, 1997-2005.