Archbishop of Canterbury opens Tur Abdin exhibition at Southwark Cathedral
- Photojournalist Guilio Paletta, who specialises in small Christian groups, has been to Tur Abdin in south-east Turkey to record the life of the Syriani Christians.
The little ancient Christian community in the mountains has been immune from Roman influence but suffered in recent upheavals which saw death or exile from beginning of the 19th century to the 1990s. The Syrian Orthodox minority now finds itself struggling as a minority with little support from the Turkish asuthorities.
"The Syrian Church represents a very ancient and a very rich strand in the great tapestry of Christian witness," said the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
"Perhaps most importantly to most people in maintaining the language that is closest to the language spoken by Our Lord himself across these centuries.
"I can still remember the experience of first hearing the psalms sung in Syriac and realising that was probably the same kind of sound heard by Our Lord as the psalms were sung in Aramaic in his day."
Speaking of the community's present struggle with poverty and harassment, Dr Williams said that he wanted to express solidarity with them and pray for them.
"Turkey has an honorable tradition of tolerating and protecting religious minorities and it would be a tragedy if the next generation were to see that tradition becoming any weaker."
The Bishop of Woolwich read out a message from the Bishop of Tur Abdin who said that it was a great comfort to have support from the Tur Abdin Focus Group which is staging the exhibition.
A second message was received from the Patriarch of Antioch who visited Lambeth Palace last year. The Patriarch's representative Bishop Polycarpos also spoke.
Canon Bruce Saunders, welcoming the Archbishop, said: "Southwark Cathedral is a parish church rooted in this local community, we are the mother church of the diocese but from time to time we also behave like an English cathedral should with a national profile doing something which takes our interest beyond our own boundaries."
Among guests at the opening were the Syrian Ambassador, diplomatic representatives from the Netherlands and Turkey, Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Fr Stephen Griffith who is both Anglican Chaplain in Syria and the Archbishop of Canterbury's Apocrisiarius to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch and the Archdeacon of Southwark.
For the Archbishop it was his second visit to Southwark in 6 days; last week he opened a new nurture room at Cathedral School in Redcross Way.
This exhibition was organised by the Tur Abdin Focus Group to raise awareness of the Christians of Tur Abdin and to show concern and support for the problems they are facing. In welcoming the Archbishop, the Bishop of Woolwich (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), who is the chairman of the Group, read out letters of greeting and appreciation from Archbishop Samuel Aktas of Tur Abdin as well as H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka I, the Patriarch of Antioch. Dr. Williams spoke movingly of the invaluable spiritual tradition embodied in the Tur Abdin community and of its spiritual and cultural value to the wider community.
The opening was well supported and attended both by His Excellency the Syrian Ambassador and representatives of the Turkish Embassy and covered by both Turkish and Syriac media including Suroyo TV, Suroyo SAT and Hurriyet. Metropolitan Mor Polycarpos Aydin, Patriarchal Vicar in the Netherlands, represented the Patriarch of Antioch. Abba Seraphim, attended as a member of the Tur Abdin Focus Group, and represents the Council of Oriental Orthodox Chuerches in the United Kingdom.
The photographs are not merely of churches and liturgical ceremonies but contain some very striking images of the simple rural life of the Suriani and personal portraiture which highlight the vitality and uniqueness of this community. The exhibition can be viewed at Southwark Cathedral until 18 October after which it will be moved to Chichester Cathedral and travel to other centres.
Tur Abdin focus group website
SOCM News Bureau - International