On January 21st, 2007, Archimandrite Robert Taft visited our parish in San Jose. The talk that he gave was reassuring and helped many in their stance in support of H.G. Mar Bawai Soro. Many of you reading this probably already know of Fr. Taft, who is a learned scholar with many works to his name; at the time, I myself had one of his books in my bookshelf.
When he weighed in on the situation as it existed in the beginning of 2007, he made it clear that he did not want to be used as a polemical tool in any kind of attack; what he had stated should be left as it is without alteration. I have done my best to faithfully transcribe his words from the video, leaving out just a personal note he had made near the beginning. The video itself can be seen at:
I am very happy to be with you today because as father said I have been very close to the Assyrian and the Chaldean communities ever since the 1950s when I was teaching in [ ] Baghdad. …
I have been accused by some people for taking sides in the very unfortunate dispute, which Mar Bawai at this very moment is in Phoenix meeting with Mar Addai trying to resolve. I know Mar Dinkha personally, of course. The only side I have taken is the side of truth in attempting to give Mar Bawai support in resolving his unfortunate problems as he is trying to do in the way of truth, Christian unity, and service to God in Christian charity. I support Mar Bawai because, rather than engaging in personal attacks or unchristian behavior, he is attempting to resolve an unfortunate problem that threats all of us because he is such a great Christian bishop. Some people call him an ex-bishop. There are no ex-bishops in the Christian Church, because once you are a bishop you are “sayedna” forever.
Mar Bawai is attempting to serve God and the Church because he realizes that the Church is not some kind of a tribal club, it is not some kind of an ethnic institution, it is the Church of God in which all of the apostolic churches such as the Assyrian Church and the various Catholic Churches must finally come together and resolve all of these stupid disputes that come from the past; disputes in which there is fault from both sides. The Catholic Church often acted as an aggressor in the Christian East at times when the other apostolic churches were in a state of weakness; but, now it is no longer a question of one church trying to swallow the other but of churches coming together in brotherly communion, accepting the apostolic foundation of both of the churches, of all of the churches of God that do trace their origins back to the apostles. So that’s what I support and that’s the only side that I take just as that is the side that Mar Bawai himself takes.
Mar Bawai, as some of you may know, was a student of mine in Rome. I was one of the members of the jury that judged his wonderful doctoral dissertation on your Assyrian tradition, your ancient tradition, but looking at it, as I said one must do today, in a modern and objective and scholarly way. The Assyrian Church is no longer hiding from persecution in a cave in the Hakkari. It is living in the real world, and we have to learn to live in that real world. It is not a world of tribalism or ethnicity. That doesn’t mean one does not remain faithful to ones tradition. It does not mean one does not remain faithful to our nation.
One thing I have always loved about the Assyrian Church and the Armenian Church is they are two churches that have been persecuted throughout their history but they are churches that have never had it in for anybody. They simply want to be left alone to live their own tradition. That is our prayer today for you, for your church, for your community and for the work that Mar Bawai is now trying to do on this very day in his visit with Mar Addai in Phoenix, Arizona.
So today, let us pray for him and for this intention and for all of the holy churches of God that they may turn the page on what was sometimes an unfortunate past and look to the future. We are now living in a modern world. We’re not hiding in some cave in Hakkari; we are living in a modern world and we have to learn that that is a world not of tribalism and personal interest, not a world of seeking power but a world of Christian unity and love for all peoples no matter what their church is and the peoples of all faiths.
We pray also for Iraq that the violence there, the terrible violence, may stop, that people may come together and live in God’s peace which is His Will for them and for us. May God bless you all!