A church leader in Syria has accused evangelical Christians of helping 'destroy' the ancient Orthodox Church of the East by offering aid if they start worshipping at house churches.
Archimandrite Alexi Chehadeh, who heads the development and ecumenical arm of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate af Antioch in Syria, said evangelicals from the United States and other countries are 'stealing our faithful' by offering to help poor and vulnerable Orthodox Christians aid if they 'convert'.
He was speaking to The Christian Post while taking part in the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association last week.
He said the Orthodox Church had received no direct help from the US.
'For us personally, I didn't see any help from the American church directly. Perhaps, [aid went] to our brothers and sisters in the Protestant Church or Baptist Church or other church denominations we have there. But for us, we didn't receive any help from the Church in [America],' he said.
Further, the US evangelical community was actively working against the interests of the Orthodox.
Instead of helping the ancient Antiochean Church, they are actually 'doing the opposite' and are in Syria to 'steal our faithful'. And it is not just the United States. Evangelical Christians from Syria's neighbours in the Middle East are also doing this.
'[They are] giving them some money to say "Come to my church. I will give you money or I will let you go to Europe or to US."
'So it is not a nice way, especially in this crisis, to come and to destroy the work of a Church, which is for more than 2,000 years in the area. Now, [Syria] is a place for everybody coming there to do what he or she wants to do because of the economic situation and the lack of income. We really suffer sometimes in some places because of the behaviour of some pastors in the evangelical churches and groups.'
Pastors from Lebanon or Syria are also involved.
'They go to some poor families, convincing them to come to their church. The church is a house or a whatever because they don't have the tradition and it is easy to receive some money, some assistance.
'When you go to someone and you say, "I believe in Jesus Christ, you believe in Jesus Christ, so come to my church", people in need, they will go there to receive some assistance.'
Asked if this was really helping 'destroy' the Antiochian Church, he replied: 'Of course'.
He cited an Orthodox village, Mhardeh, with 23,000 Orthodox Christians, where evangelicals are now doing mission.
'It's not nice. I think we have to help each other in a way that we have, or still have, our [traditions and systems] in Syria that are very powerful.'
He even said that the evangelical outreach is tantamount to 'persecuting Christians'.
He said: 'If I am persecuted from somebody outside of the Christian family, I can understand. But I can't understand that another Christian would persecute me in another way.'
Christianity spread from Antioch to the whole world, after St Paul carried the word there. 'I cannot understand how somebody nowadays doesn't support the Antiochian Church. She is the mother church of your congregation,' said Chehadeh.