THE ARCHBISHOP’S MISSION TO THE ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS.
The annual meeting of supporters at the Archbishop's Mission to the Assyrian Church was held yesterday in the Church House, the Primate occupying the chair.
DEAN BLAKISTON read the annual letter to the Archbishop from the members of the mission, dated Urmi,
Persia, February 25. In this it was stated that the two Sisters of Bethany had left, after exercising a great influence, and it was doubtful whether their places should a supplied till the future of the mission was more assured. The mission, following the Archbishop’s instructions, had acted in harmony with the Russian mission, even supplying them with schools in all those villages which had joined the Orthodox Church.
The Russians, who would almost certainly gain all the Syrians in Persia, asserted definitely that their instructions were to confine their operations to that country, and expressed the hope that the English mission would not relax its efforts on the Turkish side of the frontier. The state of the refugees in Persia having become less tolerable with each year of exile, a considerable number intended to make an effort to return to their homes in Turkey during the spring, and the British Consul at Van had been written to in their behalf. Two members of the mission had made an extended journey last year in Shamsdin, the country of the Matran (or Metropolitan), and had found a terrible state of rain under the notorious Shcikh Saddik. The Matran had accepted that Sheikh’s invitation to return to his home, but without obtaining any guarantee for his own safety or attempting to make terms for the safe return of his fellow exiles. During the winter 1897-98 31 village schools had been taught in Turkey and 46 in Persia. The mission had helped in the rebuilding of a church in the plain of a Solduz and in the restoration of two others, and had continued the printing of religious literature.
The ARCHBISHOP of CANTERBURY said that the mission had been establishe4 at the request of the Nestorian Church itself, and its main purpose was to give instruction to the future clergy. On the whole, the clergy were exceedingly ignorant, and were conscious of it. The mission had been going on for some years doing its best to educate the children and youths in order to lift the whole Church to a better position. The people., however, were suffering not only from ignorance, but from great poverty, and, owing to the bad harvest in Turkey last year, many were now barely able to live, if that. They were also subject to incessant persecution by their Mahomedan neighbours. The Kurds were perpetually carrying off property, murdering, and trying in every way to stamp out the Christians, who were now almost in despair. The mission had had greater success in Persia–where the Government, at any rate, let them alone, though no real redress could be obtained for injuries–than in Turkey, where the Government put every obstacle in their way. There had now come a further difficulty which affected the mission's very existence. The Russian Church had sent a mission into the same part of Persia, and, though there was no definite proof that the Russians had offered material assistance, yet it was natural that the persecuted people should look to Russia for help and protection. Our own Government could not interfere to stop the injustice of the Governments there, as they were not on the seaboard, nor had any such hope ever been held out ; but he did not think the Russians had been quite so scrupulous. For this reason considerable numbers had been persuaded to join the Greek Church ; and one of their Bishops had, he believed, been accepted as a Bishop by the Synod of Moscow without fresh ordination. They were thus giving up all connexion with the ancient Nestorian Church, which it had been a most ardent desire of Archbishop Benson to revive. The English Church had no title whatsoever to interfere if the people did not choose. The people would pcrhaps be very glad that the work should be continued on any terms which would give them a sort of claim for material aid, but the work could not be done on those terms. It was quite possible that the people might find out that they had deceived themselves in expecting material protection from Russia, and then they might ask the English mission to go on with the work. Meanwhile, so far as the part of the Nestorian Church now in Persia was concerned, the work might have to be contracted. There still remains all the Nestorians in Turkey, besides a portion in Persia, and for both of these sections the mission was pledged to go on. It bad been hoped to work indirectly on the Nestorians in Turkey from Persian soil. The necessity was now before the mission to resume direct work in Turkish territory, and there would be very great trouble and difficulty in doing this, as the Turkish Government was distinctly opposed to the mission. He would press on the meeting, therefore, that the mission would want more money, more labour, and more men. No change was contemplated which would make them no longer dependent on the support of English Churchmen. He did not know yet what particular line would have to be taken. If it was within their power to give these Nestorians a clearer light than they now possessed, and so revive the energies of that old Church from within, he thought they would have done very great service to the Christian cause. The were far more likely to help the Christian cause in Asia by strengthening and enlightening the ancient Churches and enabling them to re-establish themselves than by any direct endeavour to make the people English churchmen. Easterns could not be turned into Westerns. He did not think it would be wise to endeavour to persuade the Nestorians to resist the persuasions of the Russian mission. Though they probably would not get the protection they desired from Russia, at any rate for such a long time that they might as well look forward to the other world, he did not think that, till they desired, any endeavour should be made to force the mission on them.
The REV. F. F. IRVING, who was for five years one of the mission staff, also addressed the meeting.
A meeting was subsequently held at Lambeth Palace at which addresses were given by the same speakers.