Damascus, January 22, 2014
Representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at the Patriarch of Great Antioch and All East Igumen Arseny (Sokolov) arrived to Syria with a humanitarian purpose on January 18, 2014, as part of the Russian delegation, which consisted of representatives of the State Duma and the Federation Council of the Russian Federation as well as religious and public organizations.
On the first day of the visit to Damascus, the delegation visited the hospital in the Mezzeh district, where the people who had been injured in areas of combat operation were undergoing medical treatment, reports the Department for External Relations' communication service.
In the evening the representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at the Patriarch of Antioch Igumen Arseny (Sokolov) on the occasion of the feast of Theophany performed great blessing of waters in the representation church.
The next day the group from Russia was received by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Prospects for a peaceful settlement of the situation in the country, a negotiated solution of the crisis, issues of rendering aid to civilian population were discussed at the meeting.
Specifically, Igumen Arseny (Sokolov), on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia addressed the head of the Syrian state with a speech of welcome. He noted that Damascus is a Biblical city, and the Syrian land from time immemorial was known as cradle of Christianity. He stressed: "The Russian Church cannot be indifferent to suffering of the Syrian people—Christians and traditional Muslims, civilian residents, who are being attacked by terrorists".
In response, Bashir al-Assad assured in his speech that the state authority and the government army of Syria would continue to do their best to protect Christians and other religious minorities.
The Syrian president during the talk with delegation members has also noted that Russia, unlike many other countries, has been helping this country's civilian population not in word only, but also by sending humanitarian aid to Syria. It is known that aid collection for residents of war-devastated Syria has been carried out by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society with support of the Russian Orthodox Church. Eight batches of food, medicaments, medical equipment, and baby food have been already delivered to the country. Moreover, the funds raised in dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church in support of the Syrian people have been transferred to accounts of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
Towards the end of the meeting Igumen Arseny (Sokolov) gave Bashar al-Assad a copy of the book by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, The Freedom and Responsibility, translated into Arabic.
On January 20 at the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Russian delegation was received by Bishop Nicolas of Blundan. Then the guests visited the orphanage where the orphan girls, who had lived at St. Thecla Convent in Ma'loula before its seizure by armed militants, are currently accommodated. Fr. Arseny gave the children icons. Humanitarian aid from Russia has also been handed over to the orphanage.