Oriental Orthodox Church News

Abba Seraphim welcomes statement by Patriarch John X of Antioch

Abba Seraphim has welcomed the recent comments by His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch in his Encyclical Letter, which speaks of the need to work towards full sacramental unity between the two families of Orthodox Churches.   “It is the most encouraging step in this long dialogue for several years and we must hope that other Patriarchs will respond with the same clarity and conviction as Patriarch John”, said Abba Seraphim.   “The significant agreements made during the official dialogue between the Eastern & Oriental Orthodox Churches between 1985-1993 had seemed so full of promise but, sadly, over the past twenty years there has been little or no movement to build on these. In the past, the two Patriarchates of Antioch have been in the forefront of co-operation and  practical implementation of the agreements reached.  It is heartening to see that Patriarch John has made this a priority. At a time when the political situation in Syria is so dark and destructive, the reaching out in love between the two Orthodox families is a ray of light and hope.”

The section of Patriarch John’s extensive Encyclical which addresses this is given below:

“Towards a Full Sacramental Unity of the Christians:

We, as Antiochians, are aware of the painful wound inflicted on the body of Christ by the schism between the believers. This has led the Antiochian Church to participate actively for decades in every dialogue to remove the obstacles which block the way to restoring the unity of the Christian world. We will always be faithful to the policy of my predecessors. I insist on the importance of maintaining the absolute respect between the Churches ignoring any arrogance, anathematizing, and schismatization. I am deeply convinced that Orthodoxy; which is the basis of every interaction between us and other Churches, is a unifying factor not a divisive one. I am also convinced that adhering to it is the right way. With love and humility, we strengthen the common factors that bind us all together. There will undoubtedly be differences, not in essentials, and this a source of propitious diversity. This shall be considered a richness to us, and not a deviation of our adherence to Christ.

Therefore, we hope to accomplish all steps towards a full sacramental unity with our brethren in the Eastern non-Chalcedonian Churches, based on what we have agreed upon in Chambesy as a positive result of a long and extensive dialogue. If we realize this, we should be able to show that we have offered a living example of the credibility of our endeavors to achieve unity and to witness to our loyalty to the Lord. On this occasion, we also affirm that we will continue all dialogues now taking place between the different Eastern and Western Churches, seeking to show our unlimited readiness to show the face of the bride, that is the Church. In this respect, we should affirm the importance of the living witness which we as Christians should show by living the love we carry to the whole world in the name of Jesus Christ. We call for consultation among ourselves as Christian Churches, about the different issues raised by the modem world, emphasizing the issues that unite us and constitute our common denominators. These common denominators can be offered to the man of today as a consolation from the Lord.”

Concern for kidnapped bishops

Abba Seraphim added his voice to the many people concerned for the safety of two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped yesterday and asked for prayers for their early and safe release.

On 22 April, the village of Kfar Dael, a terrorist group ambushed the car containing the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo & Alexandretta, who were returning to Aleppo from a humanitarian visit. Some reports say that they had been negotiating the release of priests who had been kidnapped earlier. Their driver, a deacon of the church, was killed. It is understood that they were returning from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey and that Mar Gregorios had gone to collect Metropolitan Paul because he had crossed there several times before and was familiar with the route. Metropolitan Paul is the brother of the recently elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X.

Abba Seraphim has repeatedly expressed the view that the deteriorating situation in Syria and the uprising leading to a vicious and brutal war, which is now entering its third year, has been mishandled by the Western powers and media and Her Majesty’s government bears a heavy responsibility for this. Only by bringing all sides together can a solution be found, but by excluding representatives of the Syrian government, whose prolonged survival clearly shows that it still has significant support in the country, we have helped to prolong the conflict.

The recognition of the so-called National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people” is irresponsible and short-sighted whilst the appointment of Walid Safur as their ‘ambassador’ to the United Kingdom is a political gesture rather than an effective way of promoting dialogue with both sides.

The loose federation of opponents of the Syrian government is not representative of all the Syrian people. Indeed the Foreign Secretary has stated that part of the resolution of this conflict requires Syria’s opposition groups to win the trust of the Syrian people and provide a united and viable political alternative. The rebels do not represent all sunni Syrians, let alone the significant minorities of the Alawites, Kurds and Christians as well as Druze and others. These minorities alone make up more than one third of the Syrian population.

There are serious concerns that the armed rebel groups contain many foreign mercenaries acting for foreign interests and have a high number of active Jihadists in their ranks. Their Islamicist agenda is clearly visible, and they have already targeted Christian, Kurdish as well as Alawite communities for purely sectarian reasons.

The Free Syrian Army looks to the spiritual leadership of Sheikh Adnan Al-Arour, a Syrian exile in Saudi Arabia, who divides Syrians into three categories; those who support the revolution, those who ignore it, and those who oppose it. He insists the judgement against those who are against the revolution will be great. He speaks of the Alawites in particular, saying that any Alawites who stand with “us” will be protected, but “those that stand against us will have their flesh ground in meat grinders and fed to the dogs.”

There is no question of the scale and extent of the atrocities being committed on a daily basis but too often the international media and the British government draw on reports issued by the so-called “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, a UK based mouthpiece of anti-Assad activists demonstrating a partisan view of events, aimed at blaming the Syrian government for every atrocity committed.

The two bishops have both been active in calling for a peaceful solution and have vigorously eschewed any recourse to violence. Despite the obvious dangers they have preferred to remain with their flocks through some of the worse times and have both been at the forefront of organising humanitarian support and maintaining the constructive inter-faith dialogue and co-operation which they have promoted throughout their ministries. Even the circumstances of their kidnapping, both selflessly engaged in helping others and working together as true brothers in Christ, commends them to all those who seek peace and harmony in a troubled world.

Statement by COOC President on kidnapped bishops

A Message by Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and President of the “Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the United Kingdom and Ireland” on the Recent Kidnapping of the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Iskanadrun

Statement-Two Syrian Bishops

It is with deep sadness and much pain that we received the news of the kidnapping of our two brothers in Christ, the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Y. Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Iskandarun, Bishop Boulos Yazigi. The two prominent clergymen were kidnapped on Monday,22 April, 2013 on their way back from the Turkish borders. Since then conflicting reports have circulated about their possible release, but the diocesan offices have confirmed as of today that the Syrian Bishops’ remain missing and their whereabouts unclear.

Both clergy are very well known, respected and eminent Christian leaders. Archbishop Boulos is the brother of the newly installed Patriarch of Antioch while Mar Gregorios is a worldwide known proponent of Ecumenism and Interreligious dialogue.

Such acts of terrorism further destroy the fabric of the community in the Middle East which for centuries has been used to having the adherers of the three monotheistic religions living harmoniously and peacefully with each other.

We call on our brothers and sisters of all peace-promoting religions to denounce this act of terrorism and pray for the safety of the kidnapped Bishops. We ask the leaders of the democratic countries around the world to condemn this act of terrorism and pursue the perpetrators, securing the harmless homecoming of these two clergymen.

The Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) in Great Britain and Ireland prays with its sister Syrian Orthodox Church today beseeching our Lord to be with Archbishop Boulos and Mar Gregorios, protecting them from evil and harm and securing their safe return home.

“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; [and] them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Hebrew 13:3)

+Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian
Kensington, London
25 April 2013

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