To The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
It is with pain in my soul that I address myself to your person in order to express to you my deep anxiety regarding the dramatic ordeal of the two Hierarchs kidnapped and still missing in Syria, our beloved brother in Christ Most Rev. Metropolitan Paul of Verroia (Aleppo) and Alexandretta, Member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of the Syriac Jacobite Orthodox Church. As Your Excellency knows, the two Hierarchs were kidnapped by armed men on April 22 of this year near Syria’s border with Turkey, while they were travelling to Aleppo, within the framework of a humanitarian mission, and have been missing ever since. From the very first moments when we were informed of this dramatic development, we have been partaking of the widespread anxiety and have been praying so that with God’s succour a peaceful end may soon be put to their ordeal.
On behalf of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece I would like to express to you our vociferous protest at this unwarranted armed kidnapping and illegal detainment of our brethren in Christ, indeed an inhuman and criminal act. We address an appeal to Your Excellency that you may take speedy action for the immediate release of the two Bishops kidnapped and a salutary outcome of their painful ordeal.
The Church of Christ cannot and should not become an object of exploitation between warring parties nor be used as lever of political pressure on the part of over-zealot groups espousing fundamentalist views. Ministers of the Church always work as ambassadors and messengers of peace, particularly in the flammable areas of our planet, and should be treated as such by all. In effect, it is particularly distressing to see that clergymen of our Church should be treated unfavourably by extremist and fanatical circles in a country which was the cradle of Christianity and went down in history for its interreligious tolerance and for the harmonious coexistence of Christians with the Arab community and Islamic authorities. It was from that good ground that, in the middle of the 1st century, the new reality of the Christian Church sprang up and it was within that framework of religious diversity that the Church of Antioch laid the foundations of Christianity the world over.
At the same time, I would like to express to you our intense concern regarding the future of the ancient and long-renowned Patriarchate of Antioch, with which unbreakable historic ties bind us together, and also regarding the visible dangers threatening the Greek-Orthodox Church community of Syria, under the tragic conditions of the Syrian civil conflict. We address an appeal to Your Excellency for the protection and the preservation of the Christian heritage of the Orthodox Church on Syrian territory. Any dramatic eventuality of the Orthodox Christianity being uprooted from Syria would be a crime of lèse-histoire.
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch constitutes a historic institution with an age-long contribution and has to remain living and thriving in the region of Syria in continuation of the ecclesiastic tradition. It occupies a highly significant and prominent place in the history of the Christian Church as one of its five historical and ancient Patriarchates. It was in that cradle of the Church that the Disciples of Christ were called Christians for the first time and it was in its bosom that holy personalities of universal radiance grew up into men such as St. John Chrysostom or Symeon the Stylite. The social and charitable work of that Patriarchate in the wider area is beyond any doubt, as is also its contribution to the promotion of learning and of spiritual culture.
It is well-known that, historically, Orthodoxy first took the path of its holy mission in the specific area under conditions incomparably tougher than the ones prevailing today. Nonetheless, through its long historical course, the Syrian people has reaped the invaluable experience of peaceful and constructive living together of Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Mutual respect was the basis of this harmonious relationship. Love, ministration to the neighbour and the consolidation of unity of all men beyond any unfavourable, divisive barriers and through the promotion of social cohesion and solidarity are, after all, in the core of our theological tradition. Our Church was constructed on the basis of integrity and the high esteem for man’s worth, which both It and different other cultures upheld and served through history. Seen under this lens, the ministration of our Church is focused on honest and creative dialogue to address common problems, such as poverty, religious hatred and fundamentalism, the restoration and preservation of peace, and the healing of all the tragic consequences of an armed conflict. As is known, a large number of refugees have sought shelter in neighbouring countries and local Orthodox Churches are struggling to provide every possible kind of assistance to our suffering Arab-speaking brethren.
It is in deep affliction that I am writing down these thoughts for you, also interpreting the feelings of the entire Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and would like to ask you kindly to take them into serious consideration. I address myself to Your Excellency in the awareness that the mission of the Church is to minister to man and history and to witness to the truth in practice, by bringing out into the open all that which hurts the ecclesiastic body and subverts the salvation and the future of the people of God.
I am convinced that the gravity of the state of affairs as set out above is fully understood by Your Excellency and I hope for your prudent response and intervention so that it may be addressed in an essential and timely manner. It is with this expectation and good faith that I would like to conclude by thanking you in advance, fervently wishing that you may enjoy constantly good health and vigour in the exercise of your high duties and
remaining yours with feelings of the deepest esteem and exceptional honour.