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God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
Psalm 46:1-3 NRSVue

His Eminence Mor Boutros Kassis, the new Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo looks at the damaged dome of the church bell tower following the earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey on Monday, Feb.6 (Photo Courtesy)

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is mourning the loss of thousands of lives in Turkey and Syria following a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the region in the early hours of Monday, Feb. 6. The death toll from the quake has surpassed 17,000 people, and is still rising with tens of thousands injured, hundreds of thousands displaced, and thousands of buildings toppled.

NCC is urging congregations in the U.S. to join the global community in praying for and supporting those impacted, as aftershocks, inclement weather conditions, civil war in Syria, and a refugee crisis on the border between the two countries, have made efforts to rescue those who may be trapped in the rubble risky and extremely difficult. Disaster and humanitarian relief organizations around the world, such as Lutheran World Relief, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and International Orthodox Christian Charities, are responding to the crisis and providing assistance to those who have been left desolate, without food, shelter or personal belongings. Many are also grieving the loss of loved ones or still searching for those who are missing.

Compounding our sadness, we have learned that the earthquake, which was one of the strongest in 100 years, caused the collapse of a historic 19th century Syriac Orthodox Church, and severe damage to a Greek Orthodox Church, both in Aleppo, Syria. The churches are related to NCC member communions, and of particular note within the ecumenical community, these were the home churches of Archbishop Gregorios Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Archbishop Bolous Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, the clerics that were kidnapped by ISIS terrorists in 2013 and never found.

Rev. Deacon George A. Kiraz, who serves as the Syriac Orthodox Ecumenical Representative to the NCC, and Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, described the harrowing conditions on the ground. “The Syriac Orthodox cathedral of Adıyaman, 150 kilometers northeast of the epicenter, collapsed entirely, burying some individuals. People fear staying at night in their homes, which are now damaged, and spend the cold nights in the streets,” he said. 

In response to this tragedy, His Eminence Archbishop John Kawak of the Syriac Orthodox Church for the Eastern USA, will be holding a service of prayer for all those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, with the Massachusetts Council of Churches today, Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at St. Matthew Syriac Orthodox Church, 149 Park Street, West Roxbury, MA. The vespers liturgy will be led by Archbishop John in the Syrian Orthodox tradition, with the invitation for others to follow offering prayers from their own traditions.

“Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this horrific disaster. The humanitarian toll is heavy in both countries and calls for our immediate response,” said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, NCC’s Interim President and General Secretary. “It is in moments like these that our faith teaches us to pray for one another and to do our part to be the hands and feet of God in the world by supporting those in need.”

To support recovery efforts taking place in Turkey and Syria, donations can be made to Lutheran World Relief, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and International Orthodox Christian Charities.

For more information about the prayer service in Massachusetts, please contact Rev. Laura Everett, MCC’s Executive Director at [email protected].