Tuesday’s news of a massive explosion in Beirut was disheartening to all who heard it. But to watch the video recordings of a mushroom cloud rising above Lebanon’s capital was truly shocking, and connected us with the sense of terror experienced by the citizens of that afflicted city.
We know now that the explosions rocking downtown Beirut on August 4 flattened much of the port. An early account by Lebanon’s health minister cited at least 100 deaths, over 4,000 injured, and some 300,000 people displaced from their homes. Those figures will surely be revised upward.
His Holiness Karekin II conveyed the sympathy of the Armenian Church to the people of Lebanon following the explosion. The Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, in a telephone conversation with His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, offered his support to the country’s Armenian community and the Catholicate in Antelias.
In letters to Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and the Lebanese State Council, Catholicos Karekin II conveyed consolation to the grieving nation and to the families of those lost in the explosion. “We pray that the God-loving people of Lebanon will overcome this trial and resume their lives in peace and productivity,” Catholicos Karekin said.
I was myself privileged to speak with His Holiness Aram I, who took time out his many pressing duties on this day to graciously accept my deepest condolences on behalf of the Eastern Diocese. He described the situation around Beirut as cataclysmic, and informed me that he is establishing a special fund to help bring relief to Armenian families and others in Lebanon affected in the explosion.
Earlier I had also spoken with my dear Brother in Christ Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, to convey the sympathy of our Diocese to the Catholicate of Cilicia. To my sorrow, Anoushavan Srpazan related that twelve of our fellow Armenian countrymen are known to have perished in the blast, with more than 40 injured. So powerful was the shockwave that it was felt all the way to Antelias—which lies some five miles north of Beirut—and shattered every window in between.
Armenian institutions in Beirut have also been affected. Press reports name the Tekeyan School and Cultural Center, the AGBU Demirjian Center, and church administrative buildings in Bourj Hammoud and Antelias as being among the buildings damaged by the effects of the blast.
For our Armenian brothers and sisters, as for the entire population of Beirut, recent months have layered their lives with disaster upon disaster. Along with the pandemic we are all suffering under, they have had to deal with political and social unrest, economic turmoil—and now this frightening calamity.
With this message, I am directing the parishes in the Eastern Diocese to offer special prayers for the people of Lebanon, as they try to recover from this tragedy.
On Friday, August 7, I ask that parishes offer solemn vespers prayers starting at 3 p.m. for the wellbeing of our people and our churches; for the repose of the explosion victims, the consolation of their loved ones, and a timely recovery for all the inhabitants of Beirut and its surroundings. Since many locales in our Diocese still must observe pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, I ask that where possible, our local clergy broadcast their services over the Internet.
I also ask the faithful people across our Diocese to join in these prayers, wherever you may be at the appointed time. The Diocese will be taking up an online collection for emergency relief for the Beirut explosion, so please consider making a contribution to that effort. (Please use the donation link below, and choose “Beirut Emergency Relief” in the dropdown menu.) All proceeds will be sent to the special fund established for this explicit purpose by Catholicos Aram, to be administered through the Catholicate of Cilicia.
In the meantime, let us all ask our Lord Jesus Christ to bestow his mercy on this city that has meant so much to the Armenian people over so many years—a city that has surely known more than its share of suffering. Bring healing to Beirut’s people, Lord, and to our troubled world. In the words of our liturgy: “Ungal, getso, yev voghormya”: receive our prayers, raise us to life, and have mercy upon us.