A Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Patriarch John X at the Church of the Holy Cross in Damascus on April 22 on the 5th anniversary of the kidnapping of the Aleppo bishops, namely Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim and Bishop Paul Yazigi as well as for all the abducted people.
The Liturgy was concelebrated by several bishops, priests and deacons as well as attended by a large number of priests, nuns and a large gathering of believers.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, a special prayer was held in the memory of the kidnapped hierarchs and was followed by a joint statement issued by Patriarch John X of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
Following is the full text of the statement:
Beloved Brothers and Spiritual Children,
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
In the midst of this glorious season of the Holy Pascha, we are pleased to greet our spiritual children with this paschal proclamation, asking the Lord of the Resurrection to bestow upon the whole world the light of His Holy Pascha, and to enlighten the souls and all of His creation.
Also, from the bright of the Resurrection, we greet the world with love and paschal joy, praying for you, beloved ones, and asking for you and yours all prosperity and blessings. We heartily greet you, imploring the Lord Almighty to grant peace to His world.
In the light of the Resurrection, it is good for us to affirm and say that darkness cannot overcome the light, and that the light shines after affliction. In all of our churches, we find a cross raised inside or outside of them.
This is so to remind us that the children of the Resurrection are first and foremost children of the cross. We do not sanctify the suffering in Christianity, but we have a high esteem for love. We walk on the path of suffering for the sake of our beloved. We do not beatify affliction, but we deem it light in order to acquire what is more noble.
Let us always remember, dear brothers and sisters, that this is land where Christianity first began. Let us also keep in mind that we have made all possible efforts, and will spare no efforts, to remain here.
We know that the current circumstances are difficult for everyone, but we can manage to get over all things by our reliance on the Lord of the Resurrection, Who planted us in this land, when He preached to our forefathers the Word of His Gospel, two thousand years ago. We are the seed of this land, and we give to this land its identity and consciousness.
Today we are in the fifth anniversary of the kidnapping of our brothers the archbishops of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi. Their abduction gives a glimpse of what the human being of this East has been through.
Seven years ago, the crisis broke out in Syria. In other places, some labeled it the Arab Spring, but it is far from the symbolism of Spring.
To date, many are suffering deeply for the absurdities of wars, shedding their pure blood in defense of the land to prevent terrorism and takfirism, which we have not known until recently.
Today, the criminal kidnapping of both of our highly respected bishops is before us. We are ashamed of the indifference we see toward this issue. All the efforts that have been made to obtain even a single thread in this case have failed. All of this puts us in front of crucial questions and crucial answers.
If the abduction of our bishops is meant to suggest that Christians are of a lower degree of citizenship, then from this podium, we definitely say that Christians in Syria and elsewhere are natives and fundamental components of these homelands.
If the abduction of our bishops is meant to intimidate the so-called minorities, our answer is clear: we reject the logic of minority and majority, since our fathers and children were, along with others, the pillars of the homeland and its army, and the partners in blood and martyrdom with all other components of this country, facing all who have tried to attack our countries
If the kidnaping was intended to intimidate Christians in particular, and to induce them to emigrate, our answer is clear: The Christian presence that has lasted for 2,000 years old can not be shaken by an affliction, no matter how hard this affliction is. We are the make up of this land, its yeast, and have been planted here for two thousand years.
If the kidnaping is intended to feed sectarian strife and spread the spirit of takfirism towards the other, we see that these extremist ideologies are alien to our old and current Eastern civilization, and as Christians we see the other as the object of our love and piety towards God.
We see in the other as the one through which we find divine mercies, and hope that the other looks at us in the same way.
If the kidnaping and disappearance of both bishops are meant to suggest that there is a conflict between Muslims and Christians in the East, and to put forward the claim that the East is Muslim and the West is Christian, we are here to affirm that Christianity was born in the East, and the last dreadful events did not spare a church or a mosque.
The fire of terrorism did not spare a priest or a sheikh. The targeted victim behind all these atrocities is the human being living in the East.
If the complete obscurity in this case is intended to instill in us feelings of fear, we as Christians take the Cross of our Lord as a lesson from which we learn not to fear any fate or misfortune. We are planted in this land, as the Cross of Christ was planted in it, and through this Cross the dawn of the Resurrection shines.
Even though we have endured hardship during these difficult times, this made us more united. We, as Eastern Christians, greatly need to be in solidarity and interdependence these days. The kidnappers of the bishops did not ask about their denomination or their affiliation. They saw in them the face of Christ and the peace of the holy and pure apostles.
Today, we are called upon more than ever to look at what brings us together as Christians and what enhances our cooperation and our convergence amid all these harsh conditions.
The greatest temptation in this issue is forgetting it over time. It is noteworthy to mention that, during the previous period, we have tried all available opportunities to inquire about this cause. We have resorted to high-ranking political leaders, embassies, security agencies, governments, and decision-makers.
We have visited embassies, governments, security agencies, international and regional organizations. In this painful anniversary, we renew our determination and efforts to reach the desired closure of this file, thanking all those who have shared our concern for this humanitarian cause.
Today, we are in the time of the glorious Resurrection, in which we hope for the Resurrection of all those who have suffered the hardships of love. We send our paschal greetings to our beloved brothers Paul and Youhanna, wherever they might be, and we are certain that the light of the Resurrection penetrates all chains and limits.
We greet in particular our spiritual children in Aleppo, all the priests and lay people, those who, by their faithfulness, have proved that they were true children of both bishops. They have loyally safeguarded what they had learned from them, and have been awaiting their return with great longing, as children await the return of their father.
We implore Christ to remove the stone of distress from the heart of every human being, and for God to bless the hearts with the radiance of His Divine Comfort, release all those who are captives, and give us His divine peace.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
Damascus, April 22, 2018
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Ignatius Aphrem II
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Photography: Catholic Herald