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A Joint Statement: Three Years on the Abduction of Metropolitans Paul and Youhanna

On April 21, 2016, a joint statement was issued by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, marking the three year anniversary of the abduction of Metropolitans Paul and Youhanna.
 
 
Balamand, 21 April, 2016
 
Beloved Spiritual Children, Our Compatriots, Brothers and Sisters in Humanity,
 
On this day, three years ago, the Bishops of Aleppo, Metropolitans Paul Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim were kidnapped near Aleppo. This incident occurred while they were in a humanitarian mission to help save others. Since then, we have not heard any official news about them. No governments, associations, or great or small powers have provided us with any information about them. Since three years, their case became a miniature of the great human suffering coming from terrorism: massacres, abductions, deracination, takfir, and explosions. This is done under the pretexts of slogans and clichés. All this was done with no empathy to tearful mothers from Syria and the whole world and the broken hearts of many people who have prayed and worked to end this great human tragedy that has been going on for the last five years under false pretexts.

Today, as we present to the public opinion this great tragedy, we feel the need to emphasize the fundamental principles we have stated before, and which we share with many. They are as follows: 
 
If the intention of the kidnapping event to intimidate us, however, we, Christians, are the descendants of those who, two thousand years ago, put on the name of Christ in this particular land. We are no giants, and we do not have the support of the “giants.” We mold our bread from this land, and from the strength of our belonging to it. Thus, we preserve our identity as Antiochian Easterners, through whatever difficulties or tribulations. We have spared no effort, but our main and only hope is in God. Our strength is only and solely acquired from the determination of our people who are deeply rooted in, and hold great love for, their Church and their land. We shall continue to live in this East, ringing our bells, building our churches, and lifting up our Crosses. The arm that will be extended to these Crosses or bells will be twisted by our Muslim brethren from all our national spectra. They are the Muslims of the Bilad al-Sham, the people of moderation, who are suffering like us from the bitterness of blind terrorism and takfir, a condemned intruder to our past and present Christian-Muslim relationships. The history of fellowship and brotherhood we share together with all our national spectra shall execute this arm-twisting. Our Crosses have been broken, our people have been displaced, our country was torn apart, our churches and mosques are being burnt, and our children have been deprived of their loved ones, those who have perished because they witnessed to the Truth in this world of falsehood. Despite the horror of the situation and its severity, we throw all this on the way of Golgotha of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cover all the darkness of this age with the light of the Virgin’s eyes, venerated by both Christians and Muslims, whom we implore to bring back to us all kidnapped people, our brother bishops of Aleppo, along with the abducted priests.

We remain in this land, and we will spare no means to defend it and defend our presence in it. We were not a minority, and will never be. Thus, for those who are keen about the "minorities," those who are opening wide the doors to receive the various spectra of Syrians, it is more fitting for them to seek a resolution, saving people from the burden of the perilous sea travel and ship wreckage. We appreciate every humanitarian effort of governments or organizations. However, let us put it bluntly: we cannot be protected through facilitating the migration of refugees. We are not petitioning for protection. Rather, we are seeking peace. This kind of peace we seek is not founded on the notions of minorities and majorities, but is based on coexistence, citizenship and moderate religious discourse. Peace does not come by enforcing economic blockades and foreign economic sanctions that only hurt the homeless children and the poor people, those people who became cheap commodities for the arms’ market, used according to countries’ interests.

We reiterate our words to the international community: we are grateful for your feelings of empathy and for your statements of condemnation and decry. However, after all these three years, we hold everyone responsible for overlooking the condemned bishops’ abduction case, and for remaining silent about it. Thus, we urge everyone to substitute their statement of condemnations and promises for serious, factual, work, putting their words into action and proving their good will.

We hereby renew our appeal for the liberation of our brother Bishops. We call on the decision maker countries, and those who have the political power to “release and bind,” to put an end to this human tragedy, that does relatively depict the magnitude of the Syrian people’s tragedy. We value and appreciate every effort, local or international, to meet and dialogue. It is the only valid way for establishing peace in Syria, throughout the East, and in the entire world.

As we offer our prayers for peace in Syria, in the East and the whole world, we send greetings to the citizens of Aleppo and to our parishioners there. We send greetings to our parents who are filled with hope, to all warm hearts who love Bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi. We also send greetings to our all our beloved children at home and abroad, who are united in their love for their homeland and country of origin. We send our greetings to all Antiochians united in prayer and supplications in every corner of the earth.

As we draw near to the Holy and Glorious Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we implore Him to cast away the stone which lays heavy upon this East. May the Light of the Resurrection shine on the East. We entreat our Holy God to comfort the hearts of all fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends afflicted by this conflict, so that they may hold on to the hope of the Resurrection. We pray to the Crucified One, Who has powerfully trampled down death by death, buried by His death the evil rattle, and strengthened the hearts of His disciples. May He comfort the heart of our children, and establish peace in the land of peace. This land of the East is now bleeding, but shall, without doubt, rise again. We are the children of the Resurrection, and of Light. Our prayer goes to the Lord of the Resurrection and the Master of Lights to surround with His comforting Light and divine protection all those who are defending their land, and give eternal rest to all the martyrs, and to bring back all the abducted people safe to their beloved ones. 

To our brothers the two bishops, we say: you are a fragrant incense amid the darkness of what’s going on. You are a glaring divine praise amid the perils of self-interests, walking in the glowing countenance of the Holy One, from Whom you draw strength for yourselves and for the parishes entrusted to you. We are praying abundantly to our Savior and His saints, to take away from our sight this heavy disturbing cloud, granting to the souls of our martyrs eternal rest in His Light, and to our families protection.

Be with us, O Lord, and surround us by Your Divine Comfort. Strengthen us by the Light of Your peace. May our hearts abide by the strength of your saving hope. Be our succor and protector. Fill our souls with the light of your peace, and make our souls shine with the rays of your compassion. Comfort those who are kidnapped and bring them back to their families. O Lord, be with the displaced and help us find ways to alleviate their suffering. Care for the orphans and have mercy on our martyrs. Soothe the hearts of their beloved ones by Holy Spirit.

Give us, O Lord, the Light of Your peace, and crown our lives with Your glaring presence.

Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X