26th August, 2013

Heads of the Eastern Orthodox Churches in Australia have called on Australians to "speak out" against atrocities which have occurred in the Middle East including the "widespread" targeting of churches and Christians which they say has now escalated to unprecedented levels.

In a statement dated 23rd August, the 12 bishops and representatives of Eastern churches also called on the international media to provide a "comprehensive fair account of all events with truth, accuracy and honesty" and upon their "fellow Australians" and the Australian Government to do all they can to stop the acts of violence taking place.

"As an official seat holder of the United Nations Security Council, Australia has a unique historic opportunity and responsibility to stand up for and promote what our Nation believes in: democracy, freedom of religion and human rights," they wrote.

"We will continue to support our people in their endeavour for love and forgiveness, though it bewilders them to watch the free and democratic Nations of this world which welcomed them as new citizens, shying away from taking a clear and appropriate stand against the acts of the fanatics and extremists."

Elsewhere in the statement, the group expressed their deep concern at the spread of armed groups and "dark malicious forces which are brutally attacking public entities and churches; terrorising the citizens and destroying out homelands", and condemned actions which it says "stand against the basic notions of freedom of religion, morals, and human rights".

The group - which includes Bishop Daniel, of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Diocese of Sydney & Affiliated Regions, Mor Malatius Malki, of the Syrian Orthodox Church's Archdiocese of Australia & New Zealand, Bishop Haigazoun Najaran, of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Bishop Jibrael Kassab, of the Chaldean Catholic Church - has called for Australians to join them at a prayer vigil this Thursday at 7pm.

The vigil will be held at the St Anthony and St Paul Coptic Church, 29 Bolton Road, in Guildford, western Sydney.

For the full statement, see www.ncca.org.au/home/media-releases/739-statement-concerning-the-recent-sad-events-in-the-middle-east-.

- DAVID ADAMS