On January 22, during his stay in Syria, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, met in Damascus with Sheikh Abd Al-Sattar Said, Minister of Waqf Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic. The meeting was attended by His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Great Antioch and All the East, hierarchs of the Antioch Patriarchate Metropolitan Ephraim of Aleppo and Alexandretta and Bishop Roman of Seleucia, members of the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, Advisor to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk, Deputy Chairman of the DECR, representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia to the Patriarch of Antioch and All Archimandrite Philip (Vasiltsev) of the East and Priest Alexander Ershov, Assistant to the DECR Chairman, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Syria A.V. Efimov, Executive Director of the Fund for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage E.I. Skopenko, head of the Center for Children's Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Nasr-Allah Hassan Faez.
The conversation, which took place in a warm and friendly atmosphere, discussed issues of interreligious cooperation, as well as humanitarian assistance provided by the Russian Federation and religious communities of Russia to the people of Syria.
Minister Vakufov called this day blessed, on which the consecration of two Orthodox churches destroyed as a result of military operations and now restored by the Patriarch of Antioch and the Whole East John X took place.
He asked me to convey his gratitude to the President of the Russian Federation and the Russian army "for everything you have done for us, standing shoulder to shoulder with us in the fight against global terrorism."
The Minister also shared memories of his visit to Russia in September 2022, a visit to the DECR, as well as communication with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, noting that he has a photo of a meeting with the Primate of the Russian Church in Moscow in his office. He appealed to Metropolitan Anthony with a request to convey greetings and words of gratitude to Patriarch Kirill.
As Sheikh Abd Al-Sattar Said, the Syrian people and the Syrian President "stand shoulder to shoulder with Russia" in these difficult times. "We know that today Russia defends global values that are the same for both Christians and Muslims. She's not fighting for herself–she's fighting for the truth. We – both Muslims and Christians – are with you in this struggle and in these difficulties."
For his part, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk thanked the Minister for his hospitality. "It is very joyful to meet you again – now on Syrian soil," he said, conveying to the interlocutor from His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia warm wishes of good health and God's help in his labors.
The hierarch shared with the Minister of Waqfs his impressions of his trip to Syria, saying, in particular, that on January 21, together with His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch, he visited the Russian Church Compound in Damascus and got acquainted with the work of the Children's Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Center operating under it. "The Russian Orthodox Church took an active part in the creation of this center and now continues to support its activities," said Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk. – We were very impressed with what we saw. On the one hand, it is scary to see the pain and suffering of innocent children, but on the other hand, it is joyful that in a short time three hundred children have already successfully undergone treatment and rehabilitation in this center. We signed an agreement yesterday to continue our cooperation for the coming year."
And on Sunday, January 22, a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church headed by Metropolitan Anthony had the opportunity to accompany His Beatitude Patriarch John at the consecration of two recreated churches. Comparing the feelings of participating in these events with Easter joy, Bishop Anthony said: "In both cities – Arbin and Az-Zabadani – there are still terrible traces of war. With the naked eye, you can see how much more needs to be restored in order to return cities to normal life. But it is very touching that one of the first places that residents of one and another city wanted to revive was the temple. As you know, our country and Russian President Vladimir Putin personally have supported these projects in every possible way. Thanks to the Russian state, these temples were restored, and today His Beatitude compared them to beautiful brides."
The DECR Chairman emphasized that representatives of the Muslim community were present at such an important event for local Christians in both cities. "With the naked eye, you can see what kind, fraternal relations have developed here between Christians and Muslims. As His Beatitude Patriarch John said today, truly believing people, for whom faith is a priority, always carry a message of peace, love and mutual understanding. The fact that there is a temple and a mosque on the same street is a good example of how representatives of different religions, but truly religious people should live together."
During the further conversation, Minister Vakufov stressed that Muslims in Syria treat Christians with love. He also noted with gratitude the huge role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the implementation of the project to create a Center for children's rehabilitation and Prosthetics in Damascus, in which children who suffered during the hostilities receive invaluable assistance.