Metropolitan Ephrem Maalouli and Archbishop Boutros Kassis, who lead the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox communities in Aleppo, Syria, insist that the Christians live in hope and continue to feel the presence and inspiration of their two predecessors, abducted by Islamist militants 10 years ago.
Christians in Syria, and more specifically in the city of Aleppo, marked the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping of two archbishops, last Saturday, despite still having no reliable information about their whereabouts or whether they are still alive.
The respective synods named their successors several years ago but neither these, nor the communities as a whole, are ready to abandon hope that their abducted brethren will be returned to them alive. “We have no information, neither positive or negative, so we are living with our hope. The people are living with hope that the two bishops will return, because they love them”, said Metropolitan Ephrem Maalouli, of the Greek Orthodox Church, in a message to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
His Syriac Orthodox counterpart, Boutros Kassis, told the pontifical charity that he is often pressured to say whether he thinks the two kidnapped clerics are alive or dead, but always refuses. “We will not speculate about their fate, though many try to push us into this situation, as we believe that ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Archbishops Paul Yazigi, from the Greek Orthodox Church, and Youhanna Ibrahim, of the Syriac Orthodox Church, were travelling together on 22 April 2013 when their vehicle was stopped by suspected islamist militants. Their driver, a Syriac Orthodox deacon, was shot and killed on the spot, but the two hierarchs were taken and have not been heard from since.
Meanwhile, Bishop Paul Yazigi, Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim, and others who were abducted, tortured or even killed for their faith over the past years, continue to inspire Christians in the Middle East. “Our missing Archbishops, priests, and all those who have been kidnapped are a banner for us to advance in bearing hardships and difficulties. Let us reach out to them all and pray with hearts filled with hope and expectation”, the Syriac Orthodox bishop urged.
A constant presence
Despite their prolonged disappearance, Mar Boutros Kassis said that the Christians of Aleppo continue to feel the presence of the two bishops. “Today, our missing Archbishops are asking us how we are, how we live, what spirit dwells in us, and if we are ready to answer the reason for the hope that is within us. This hope makes us strong in the face of difficulties and trials with Jesus Christ our Lord, who has told us: ‘In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.’ Yes, Christ has overcome the spirit of the world and broken the power of death, rejecting the authority of the devil. It is up to us to hold His hand, so that we may continue to endure and overcome.”
Such endurance and hope are still needed today in Syria. After more than a decade – and counting – of conflict, a crippling financial crisis and a disastrous earthquake in February that badly affected Aleppo, many have nowhere to go for help but to the Church.
“We are not in a good situation, especially in terms of the financial health of the Christians and of the Churches in Syria. The people hope that the situation will improve, and that the Church will help them, and that is because ACN has been helping us for many years and continues to do so. Thank you, thank you to the donors, and thank you to everyone!”, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan said.