The plight of the Syriac Orthodox Church has been a very harrowing one these past few years, with expansions by Da’esh into the Assyrian heartland within northern Iraq and Syria driving hundreds of ancient Christian communities out of the region entirely.
Faced with endemic persecution and the threat of extinction, tens of thousands of Assyrians have fled westward to safer havens in Europe and beyond. The United Kingdom itself has become the home for many of those seeking refuge, and now those of the Syriac Orthodox Church have just consecrated their first cathedral in Acton, West London.
Formerly the Saint Saviour’s Church, the consecration ceremony of St Thomas Cathedral was attended by Charles, the Prince of Wales, Ignatius Aphrem II, the Patriarch of Antioch, and various other bishops and representatives of both the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Church of England and nearly 600 other worshipers. The service was led by Toma Dawod Dakkama, the Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.
It was a decidedly double-edged ceremony, one of both hope and immense sadness. While the cathedral marked a new beginning for the Syriac church within the United Kingdom, attendants were constantly conscious of the atrocities being committed against their people back home in Iraq and Syria at the hands of Islamists and Arab extremists.
Prince Charles commented upon those thoughts during his speech to the congregation during the service. Even though the Church was being brutally persecuted and undergoing immense trials for their beliefs in the Middle East, His Royal Highness found it “deeply encouraging” that the Syriac community has been able to “expand and gain in strength” within the United Kingdom and that such an event gives hope for the future. Prince Charles was later seen with members of the congregation in some light-hearted dancing just outside the cathedral proper, much to their apparent delight.
The Prince of Wales has a long history of interfaith dialogue and possesses a connection to the Eastern branches of the Christian religion through his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was formerly Greek Orthodox before his marriage to The Queen. He has spoken numerous times in the past of his dismay at the destruction of the most ancient Christian communities in the world at the hands of fundamentalists and warlords and has worked closely with numerous figures and organisations undertaking relief efforts in the area. In 2013, Prince Charles donated an undisclosed sum to the British Red Cross and DEC Syria for their work with those affected by the Syrian Civil War.