Communities of faith
With people around the world, I have been reading and listening to news stories about last week’s earthquake in Syria and Turkey. I’ve been struck by images of entire blocks and cities destroyed, more than 35,000 people dead, and scores of others injured and missing. The scope of this disaster is incomprehensible, and both the massive scale and geographic distance make it easy to give up on trying to comprehend it.
But that distance in me shrunk as I was reading a story about one of the cities that was torn to rubble, the Turkish city of Antakya. Antakya has a rich cultural and religious history, given its location along the Silk Road. The Jewish community of Antakya is 2,300 years old. But now, that ancient synagogue has been destroyed.
The city of Antakya has long Christian roots, too. In the book of Acts, we read that Barnabas and Saul (soon to be called Paul) spent a year in Antakya, also known as Antioch. And it was “in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’’ (Acts 17:25). St. Paul Orthodox church was reduced to rubble last week, too.
As I read about these houses of worship destroyed, somehow the incomprehensibility of this earthquake shrunk to a more human scale. What my head could only perceive as numerical statistics, my heart could recognize as communities of faith, like ours. Communities who gather for worship and prayer, for meals and support. Communities of individuals who have lost not only their homes, but their houses of worship. Communities of faith who are now centers of humanitarian aid, spiritual care, and compassionate support.
I first read about Antakya and these houses of worship in a New York Times article titled, “Earthquakes Destroy. Humans Rebuild.” Those communities of worship in Antakya have endured thousands of years of strife and destruction, and I trust that they will, somehow, endure this. Already we have seen this in the people of Syria and Turkey. Humans rebuild. We are hardwired to be resilient, and our faith gives us both the courage, the fortitude, and the company necessary to do just that.
St. Paul – who preached in that synagogue in Antakya and for whom our congregation is named– reminds us that we are people who bear one another’s burdens, who weep when others weep, that our live are bound up with one another. Those communities of faith on the other side of this world are not just statistics or incomprehensible news stories but siblings, communities of faith like us, bound up in life with us.
In our giving to various aid groups and through our prayers, we can live the kind of generosity that reflects our shared heritage and our shared future – as humans who rebuild.