Fr. Andreas said he immediately left his home and drove back. He said, “I am not armed but I personally believe that somebody should be at the church at that moment, and I am the first and last line of defense, especially with the police being as strained as they are. I put on my coat and stood in front of the church, not to attract attention but to show that it is not an abandoned building and that somebody is there.”
He said he could not tell the identity of passersby, because everyone was masked, but as he approached the church, he saw cars driving by with antifa [anti-fascist] flags, and people screaming out of their cars, death to the pigs, death to the cops. He noted that you have to be scared in such a situation because there could be crazy people present.
Two or three blocks away, there was a shopping center or strip mall area with stores like Target, Jewel-Osco (a supermarket), Five Below, Foot Locker, Chipotle and McDonalds. The police told Fr. Andreas that all those stores were smashed and hit. Hooligans threw bricks threw windows and the area had to be completely evacuated by the police.
Fr. Andreas and his neighbor, a Greek Orthodox restaurant owner, stood side by side and saw, Fr. Andreas said, “People were in the street. The police was in the street. People were yelling and screaming. Rioters were kicking cars.” Some people cursed Fr. Andreas, and others, he said, were spouting what he called misinformation and conspiracy theories. He stayed until 7 or 8 p.m. to make sure nothing will happen to the church and returned again in the morning.
He said that thankfully nothing happened to the church so far, and police were patrolling up and down the streets, while downtown Chicago is completely under lockdown. The National Guard had been called to help.
Fr. Andreas said that in general, “It was just a smorgasbord of people taking advantage of the situation. Even if people were not criminals, seeing the opportunity of a broken store window, they would run in and grab something.” In other words, this was not a protest any longer, but strictly rioting, he said. The police told him that they were overwhelmed and had to decide who to arrest and who to let go.
Fr. Andreas said that as a church, the Armenians believe all lives are precious regardless of names and even religion, and must be defended. He said that he personally thinks, and believes the Armenian Church would agree, that we want justice and we want the truth to come out. Anyone who is guilty, he said, should answer for it. In fact, he even spoke about the George Floyd situation in his Sunday sermon, and said he would protest and stand up for truth and justice if need be.
However, he concluded, “As the church, as a community, as Armenians who know what suffering and injustice is, yes, we cannot relate to the plight of African Americans, and the struggle they go through every day, and yes, we stand next to them and stand arm-in-arm, but what is happening is not about Black Lives Matter anymore. It is distracting from what really needs to be done.”
As far as St. Gregory the Illuminator Church itself, he said he realized, seeing what happened in Denver to the khachkar (see this Mirror article), that just being a church does not necessarily mean anything and the situation was far from over. He said, “I plan to be at the church regularly and show there is a presence here. I am a big guy. If somebody sees me, hopefully they will stay away – not that I can do anything, and I do not want to cause a ruckus or violence. The church is my home. Everyone who comes and prays here is family. Like any father or parents who defend their family, I will defend my church. Hopefully it won’t come to that though.”
H/T The Armenian Mirror-Spectator