Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch
A Greek Orthodox Church leader bemoaned the global apathy shown toward two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped two years ago, one of whom is his brother.
Speaking ahead of the anniversary of the abductions on April 22, 2013, Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch said: “We hope that the bishops are alive, but unfortunately the world is silent and nobody has provided physical evidence.”
Speaking at the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Balamand Monastery, near Tripoli in northern Lebanon, on Sunday, Patriarch John called for “the whole community and international organizations to mobilize” to search for the missing bishops.
Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazii, both of Aleppo, were kidnapped on the road between Aleppo and the Turkish border on April 22, 2013. Their driver was killed by the abductors while a fourth person in their vehicle managed to escape unharmed.
“We tried to negotiate with those who can help in this matter, but unfortunately there was total silence,” said Patriarch John, the brother of Metropolitan Boulos, or Paul.
The bishops were believed to have been taken by anti-Syrian government forces. Media reports pointed to a jihadist group from the rebellious Chechnya region in Russia as the people behind the abduction. The kidnappers might have been after the $500,000 cash the bishops carried on their way to negotiate for the release of two previously abducted priests, sources said. Or the Chechen rebels might have taken the church leaders as a sign of opposition to Moscow for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, they added.
The whereabouts of the two bishops remained unknown.
In a joint statement on the second anniversary of the leaders’ abduction, Patriarch John and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch said, “Your wound is our wound, and your pain is our pain, and your tears are our tears and your life is our life.”
“Our (Middle) East,” they said, “has become an open arena for all evils.” The aim of the atrocities in the region “is to demolish life in its cradle, shatter civilizations, remove the rudiments of its landmarks, conceal its characteristics, displace man, destroy history and disfigure the identity of God.
In November last year, Theophilos Kuriakose, Metropolitan of the Syriac-Orthodox Church of Antioch, asked Pope Francis during his meeting with leaders of Eastern Churches in Rome to intervene in the abduction of the two bishops.
The head of the Catholic Church held the Metropolitan’s hand at the meeting and told him: “I am deeply united with you, and I pray for these two bishops, and I will do my level best for their release and for the suffering people in the Middle East.”