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Palm Sunday shadowed by kidnapping of Aleppo church leaders

27 April 2013

For the first time in their history, the patriarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Church has asked the believers to adorn the traditional Palm Sunday processions with black ribbons tied on candles rather than the usual white ribbons expressing their sadness because of the two abducted church leaders from Aleppo, Syria.

It is also a symbolic action, meaning that this year’s Easter in the region approaches “at a time when we are being surrounded by much pain and suffering”.

On Monday, 22 April, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi of Aleppo and Alexandretta and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo were kidnapped en route to Aleppo by unknown assailants after returning from a humanitarian mission near the Turkish border region.  Their driver, Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was killed in the incident.

In a pastoral letter issued Saturday, H.B. John X, the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, said “let our processions be this year with candles tied with black ribbons, chanting the hymn: ‘To Thee O Champion Leader…,’ instead of the hymn ‘Rejoice O Bethany.’”

For Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches around the world Palm Sunday this year is recognized on Sunday, 28 April with the following Sunday, 5 May being Easter Sunday. Protestant and Roman Catholic churches celebrated Easter on 31 March.

“Since we are the children of the Resurrection, we are not afraid of whoever takes violence as a way to achieve his purpose,” John X wrote in the letter. “To be killed, or kidnapped, or to have our institutions destroyed, will not change our resolve to uphold our civil life and our co-existence; to cling to our homeland and to seek the reign of justice and rights in our homelands.”

In his letter John X urged the international community to do everything it can to find and release the two archbishops.  He also called for a quick solution to the conflict in Syria.

“There is no news about the kidnapping from the churches in the region,” Michel Nseir, WCC programme executive for the Middle East said Saturday. “We are in permanent contact with them, and we continue to pray that our two Archbishops will be released.”

Toward the end of his letter John X wrote, “In this time, let us exceptionally intensify our prayers and supplications. Just as our Lord was not afraid to walk the path of Calvary; in the same way we are invited to walk with Him along this path.”

Read the pastoral letter by H.B. John X, the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East

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