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Lebanon Strife Blamed on Outsiders : Mideast Christian Leader Deplores Acts Against His Flock

Associated Press

The head of one of the oldest jurisdictions in Christianity, Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, claimed that outside “agents” are behind the assaults on his flock in Lebanon.

On his first U.S. visit in the six years since he became chief pastor of about 5 million Christians in the Middle East, he said of the violence against Lebanese Christians:

“Those who shoot and kill were armed by someone else. They were trained by someone else. They were sent by someone else. The money comes from somewhere else.”

Observing that Lebanon has no arms factories, he added pointedly: “Arms do not come from heaven.”

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Not Sure of Culprit

The patriarch, 65, a bearded man in black cassock and black, flat-topped headgear, said he is uncertain who is fomenting the conflict in Lebanon.

But, he ticked off a wide-ranging list of “others with interests” there--the United States, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and, when asked about it, added the Soviet Union.

“The slaughter is a sickness,” he said.

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The bloodshed has moved from Beirut to southern Lebanon. Christian villages have been overrun and looted, driving an tens of thousands of Christians into flight.

The patriarch said the strife was not an “exclusively religious” conflict caused by differences between Muslims and Christians. He said it is also caused by factions seeking power.

He blamed the violence on “agents of others who want the partition or dissolution of Lebanon.”

He added, “I’ve never believed that the fighting comes either from the Koran (Muslim Scripture) or from the Christian gospel.”

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Los Angeles Appearance

The patriarch, a leader in the ecumenical movement and one of six presidents of the World Council of Churches, faces a heavy American schedule of addresses, conferences, celebrations and meetings with other church leaders. (He will attend the Antiochian Orthodox western regional conference June 19-23 at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Los Angeles.)

“As long as they’ll accept me,” he remarked drolly when asked the length of his stay. “They may kick me out.”

He is the 166th successor of the first bishop of Antioch, traditionally said to be the Apostle Peter. It was in Antioch that believers in Christ first were called “Christian,” according to Acts 11:26, and no other city had such an important role in extension of the faith.

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The patriarch, recalling a 1983 meeting with Pope John Paul II in Rome, said, “On the level of courtesy, it was wonderful.” The Roman Catholic Church was founded several years after the one at Antioch.

Antioch and Rome are among five ancient centers of Christianity headed by patriarchs (Greek meaning “chief father”), the others being Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem.

18 Million in U.S.

The world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians total about 250 million, possibly as many as 8 million in America in 14 national branches.

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Patriarch Ignatius’ oversight includes about 800,000 Antiochian Orthodox members in North America, led by Metropolitan Philip of Englewood, N. J.

The patriarchal residence now is in Damascus, Syria. It was moved there in the 16th Century when Damascus became Syria’s civil capital, replacing Antioch. Antioch now is in Turkey, annexed from Syria in 1939.


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