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'Bitter-sweet' Easter for Syrian faithful

10 May 2013


Happier time: the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Yohannna Ibrahim (right), in Chichester Cathedral last November, for the enthronement of Dr Martin Warner (left) as Bishop of Chichester

Happier time: the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Yohannna Ibrahim (right), in Chichester Cathedral last November, for the enthro...

CHRISTIANS across the Middle East marked Orthodox Easter last weekend with prayers for the two Syrian Archbishops who were kidnapped last month. The Syrian Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, the Most Revd Paul Yazigi, were seized in northern Syria on their way home from the Turkish border ( News, 3 May).

The Metropolitan of Mardin in Turkey, Saliba Özmen, summed up the attitude of Christians in the region when he said: "This year, we celebrate Easter in a bitter-sweet mood; we rejoice for the resurrection of Christ, but we are desperately sad about the lack of news about our missing bishops." In most Orthodox churches in the Middle East, some of the traditional acts of celebration were replaced by quiet prayers for the safe return of the churchmen.

Christians have also been praying for peace in Syria, in a week in which there were two potentially important developments: Israeli jets hit targets inside Syria; and Russia and the United States agreed to work together for a diplomatic solution.

Fears for the safety of the missing Archbishops are growing. While churchmen have been abducted in the Middle East before, their capture has usually been followed shortly afterwards by a demand from the kidnappers. On this occasion, there has been no indication about their captors or their whereabouts. Furthermore, Archbishop Ibrahim is known to suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure. It is not known whether he has access to the medical supplies that he needs.

In the diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the wider crisis in Syria, Russia and the US agreed on the need for both the Syrian government and the opposition to hold talks. But persuading both sides to stop fighting and participate in a transitional government presents a challenge. The government forces do not seem to be close to surrendering, but neither are they able to deliver a crushing blow to the rebels.


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