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Prince hears of suffering of Iraqi Christians

21 November 2014

THE Armenian Archbishop of Iraq, the Most Revd Avak Asadourian, has warned of the end of Eastern Christianity in its birthplace. He was speaking after a service on Wednesday, attended by the Prince of Wales, at the Armenian Cathedral in London - St Yeghiche's, in Cranlow Square.

In response, Prince Charles referred again to his distress at the sufferings of the Church in Iraq and Syria (News, 7 November).

Archbishop Asadourian began his speech by bringing "greetings from Iraq's suffering Christians". He said that the militarisation of Iraq after the coup d'état in 1958, and the four wars since 1980, had ruined the country's fabric. He described the 2003 Iraq war as "ill-advised", saying that it had resulted in 11 years of destroyed infrastructure, a brain drain, high-level corruption, continual violence between sects, and a bad school system.

"Iraqi Christians are leaving the country of their forefathers," he said. Numbers were down from 1.5 million in 1980 to 400,000 today; and he warned that it was "a presence that is still dwindling" because of the encroachment by Islam State.

"If political measures are not adopted very soon, then Christianity in its Eastern manifestations will cease to exist in its own birthplace," he said. "If this comes to pass, how sad it will be for all of us. . .

"It seems to me that we all know the ends, but we are hesitant in effecting the remedy."

The Prince of Wales, who was presented with an icon of St George, based on a replica of a second-century St Matthew's Gospel, described the Armenian Church as the "oldest established Church" in the world; having been recognised in AD 301.

"It is the most soul-destroying tragedy that the Armenian Church is facing such indescribably persecution in the Middle East, in countries where Armenian Christians have long lived peacefully with their neighbours.

"It is literally heart-breaking to learn of the attacks on Christians and on the churches where they gather, such as the mindless, brutal destruction of the Armenian Church in Deir el-Zour [in Syria] earlier this year - a treasured memorial to the appalling sufferings of the Armenian people."

He thanked Archbishop Asadourian for his update on the suffering of Armenian Christians in Iraq, and said: "I greatly admire the courage and faith of your flock, who are an example to us all of faith, quite literally, under such grotesque and barbarous assault."

The Bible reading during the service (Matthew 5.8-12) "reminds us of our Lord's words of comfort and encouragement to those who are undergoing persecution", Prince Charles said. "Perhaps we need, also, to remember the instruction issued by the writer to the Hebrews: 'Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them that suffer adversity as being yourself also in the body.' This is what we must all, as Christians, seek to do."

He continued: "Like many others, I have been deeply distressed by the appalling nightmare faced by Christian and other minority communities in the Middle East. Every week I receive letters from people who are greatly concerned about the persecuted Church in the Middle East.

"Our prayers for those who have to endure this continuing horror seem so hopelessly inadequate under such dreadful circumstances; but please, please, just know how truly helpful they drill

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