It is Thanksgiving in America. If you are reading from the United States, there is a good chance you have spent the last several days shopping and cooking turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, casseroles, vegetables, potatoes, and desserts. Perhaps you have decorative candles set out on tables that are covered in festive linens? Maybe you have family coming to dinner or you are, like I am, visiting with friends and loved ones in their homes? Have you selected the perfect wine? Do you have your best clothes laid out waiting for you? Is your insurance card in your wallet in case of some sort of accident that requires urgent medical care?
Perhaps your church is gathering for an Akathist of Thanksgiving this evening or tomorrow morning? Maybe you are having liturgy and a nice lunch with your parish? If you are in cooler weather, will you build a fire in a fire pit and huddle around it with your loved ones? Will you take family photos for your Christmas cards in front of the changing leaves? When you think back on this season, will it be with great joy?
Or, when you look back on this season, will you remember terror as your neighborhood is destroyed around you? Will you be unable to safely find out if yours is one of the more than 250 homes that are destroyed among the people you huddle with, praying for safety? Will you wonder if there is enough food to feed your children or medicine to keep your loved ones alive?
Leadership from the Order was finally able to speak to some of our brothers and sisters at St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church in Gaza City today. In most past conversations, they tell us that they are, despite everything, “okay.” Today was a very different story. Today, when I spoke with the always cheerful and hopeful Archbishop Alexios, he said that things were “terrible” and “very difficult now.”
At present, sources report that 450 people are sheltering at St. Porphyrios, including 170 women and 120 children. Food is scarce now, and getting harder to obtain. They are currently eating one main meal a day, scraped together from what they can find. The monastery is still able to make bread to feed them, but for how much longer, Archbishop Alexios does not know. What very few resources there are in Gaza – food, fuel for the generator that powers the well for their dwindling water supply – are being sold by people who are “taking advantage,” said one source. A single can of tuna costs the equivalent of USD $ 10. Powering the generator is around $300 every day.
Archbishop Alexios tells us that at least 70% of the neighborhood they are in is destroyed. By his count, at least 250 of the homes of those sheltering in the church have been destroyed. He said that none of the humanitarian aid that has been allowed across the border has reached North Gaza that he knows of. Certainly, none of it has reached St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church. The church is sheltering elderly people, infants, and people who have been injured recently by glass falling from the ancient windows of the church as the streets are bombarded. “There are no more hospitals open in Gaza,” lamented Archbishop Alexios, “no way to get treatments to the old, the sick, the injured, and babies.”
We could hear the grief and pain in Archbishop Alexios’s words even as he gave us his apostolic blessing again and again. Yet amid his suffering, he remains focused on providing for the spiritual, emotional, and complete physical needs of those sheltering at the church. During the coming ceasefire, the Holy Order of Saint George will send funding to assist in this. We know that what we are able to send now is barely a drop in the bucket of their mounting needs. We assured the Archbishop that we would not stop working to raise more funds to get them aid.
Archbishop Alexios asks for your prayers and sends his blessing to everyone who has been working to get help for the suffering community there, “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the Theotokos and Virgin Mary and Saint Porphyrios, who are our patrons and protectors.”