Dear Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
CHRIST IS RISEN
The human tragedy in the Balkans continues to increase day by day. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians are fleeing from Kosovo as Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces act with extreme violence against civilian populations. The violence is devastating and the cruelties are heartrending. The refugee crisis is placing Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro (a republic in the Yugoslav Federation) under great stress and hardship.
As the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia continues, what is euphemistically called “collateral damage” is causing suffering to civilians throughout Serbia (including Kosovo) and Montenegro. The inevitable deaths of civilians under the bombing campaign are accompanied by the devastation of the economic infrastructure and by the immediate threat of ecological disaster.
We condemn the ethnic hatreds that have made possible the present atrocities. We condemn the government of President Slobodan Milosevic for its violent and repressive policies during the past ten years. We believe that these policies have radicalized the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, thus setting the stage for the formation of the KLA, with resulting violence by the KLA against Serbians. And the cycle of violence continues with the bombing by NATO. It is our conviction that the international community must find a way to break this cycle of violence-and that this effort must begin in our own hearts.
We pay tribute to the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Serbia who have raised their voices during the past ten years against the repressive policies of their nation’s government, and who warned their people and the world that the fruit of these repressive policies would be bitter.
The bonds of faith uniting us to the Orthodox Church of Serbia and the Orthodox Church of Albania are strong. Thus we have a direct and immediate sense of the human suffering on both sides of the political and military conflict. Our hearts go out to those who suffer in the Balkans, and to our Albanian and Serbian brothers and sisters in the United States and Canada who are anxious and fearful for their relatives in the Balkans.
Our Orthodox faith teaches us to see in every person the image and likeness of God, the very presence of Christ. This means that our faith enjoins us to respect and honor the image of God in each and every human being and to minister to every suffering person. Thus our compassion is not and cannot be limited to Orthodox Christians, but must, in the name of Christ, be extended to people of other churches and religions.
On the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, April 25, you have been asked to respond generously, if you have not done so already, to provide aid and support to the suffering people in the Balkans through gifts and donations for this purpose. The Orthodox Church in America will use your gifts in the most appropriate way. We will continue to rely on our close relations with the Serbian and Albanian Orthodox communities in assessing how best to make our solidarity with the suffering peoples in the Balkans effective. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the humanitarian organization of Orthodox Christians in the United States and Canada, will continue to be an important vehicle of our response to the needs in the Balkans.
Again, we must join together in prayer for an end to the cycle of violence. We are challenged to respond with compassion to the suffering of men, women, and children in every affected country, ethnic group, and religious community. May our fervent prayers and our compassionate actions make a contribution towards hope and peace.
With love in the Risen Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada