The Russian government is considering granting citizenship to some 50,000 Syrian Orthodox from the Qalamoun region, after they issued a joint request to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In statements issued in the past few days, spokesmen for President Putin and the Ministry have confirmed that the highest Russian authorities are examining the request.
The Syrian Christians wrote: ‘This is the first time since Christ’s birth that we, the Christians of Saidnaya and Maara Saidnaya, Ma’loula and Maarun have been threatened with expulsion from our land’. The letter was full of praise for Russia which it described as a ‘powerful factor for global peace and stability’. However, its remarks about Western countries were less flattering: ‘The aim of the Western-backed terrorists is to eliminate our presence in our homeland. They use the most abhorrent methods to achieve this, for example, murdering ordinary people’.
Archpriest Nikolai Balashov of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Affairs, commented that Middle Eastern Christians ‘had known for centuries that no other country would look after their interests in the same way that Russia would’. To reaffirm the ties between Russia and the Churches in Syria, on 14 October the Russian authorities decided to erect a statue of Christ on a mountain in Syria which is home to the Orthodox shrine of the Mother of God of Saidnaya. Arab Orthodox pilgrims come to this shrine from all over the Middle East.
To express his concern for the Christians ahead of the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Patriarch Kyrill had already sent President Obama a letter, asking him to listen to the cries of religious leaders who unanimously opposed proposals for military intervention against President Assad. In his message, the Patriarch talked about ‘the threat of mass extermination or exile’ faced by Christians in the Middle East. He urged others to join Russia’s diplomatic efforts and make the most of the opportunities that opened up for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
With atheist Communism dead and atheist Europe a poodle to the USA, Russia is reinstating itself as the protector of Middle Eastern Christians, as in the 19th century. The Russian Orthodox Church has strengthened its relations with the Middle East’s battered Orthodox Churches by giving significant financial help. Last August, it donated $300,000 to the Patriarchate of Antioch to help those in need as a result of the Saudi and Qatari-financed anti-Syrian war. In July, First Hierarchs and representatives of Middle Eastern Churches met President Putin in person during their visits to Moscow for the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. Patriarch Kyrill was the last great foreign Christian leader to be received by Bashar al-Assad in Damascus back in November 2011.