Voices from Russia

Sunday, 20 December 2015

20 December 2015. No Comment Necessary Department… I Grew Up in Aleppo…

00 abe kasbo syria aleppo 201215



Saturday, 6 December 2014

Antiochan Orthodox Installing New Leader: North American Diocese Celebrates Its Roots

00 metropolitan joseph. 06.12.14


No one under 50 can remember the last enthronement of a North American leader of the Antiochian Orthodox, a church with ancient roots in the Arab lands in and around Syria. However, today, they’ll experience it in Brooklyn in a service that’d formalise the election earlier this year of Archbishop Joseph al-Zehlaoui as the new metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Earlier this week, by phone, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East, who arrived from Syria earlier this week to preside at the ceremony, said, “This event means to us a lot… joy for the faithful in America and the homeland. We are one family”.

Even amidst the full pomp and splendour of the Orthodox liturgy at the Cathedral of St Nicholas in Brooklyn, worshipers will keep in mind their counterparts in and around Syria, where the self-styled Islamic State and other extremist militants target Christians and other religious minorities. Extremists kidnapped Patriarch Youhanna’s brother, also a bishop, with another bishop near Aleppo in Syria, almost two years ago. The Patriarch said, “It’s not so easy, but … despite all these difficulties and tragedies, we still hope”. His brother remains missing.

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOCANA) has 266 parishes and missions, with an especially strong presence in Pennsylvania due to historic Arab Christian immigration here. St George Cathedral in Oakland PA is the centre of a diocese spanning five states. Antiochian Village, a summer camp and conference centre in Westmoreland County, is a regional hub of church activity. Fr Anthony Yazge, camp director at Antiochian Village, one of about half a dozen Pittsburgh-area priests headed to the enthronement, said, “[Metropolitan Joseph] is a very pious man who places great value in the youth of the Church. He’s not a person who’s going to take the easy way. He’s going to take the right way”.

Earlier this year, the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch elected Metropolitan Joseph to succeed Metropolitan Philip Saliba, who died at age 82 in March after a 48-year tenure in which he expanded the church’s appeal to converts and other Orthodox beyond his fellow Arab-Americans. The denomination reported having about 100,000 members and more than 400 clergy. Metropolitan Joseph, 64, was born and raised in Syria, where he began his ministry before working as a priest in Europe and later America. In 1991, he began a tenure as bishop and later archbishop of Los Angeles. He was one of three nominees to replace Metropolitan Philip.

In a phone interview, he said, “The enthronement isn’t only for me. It’s a blessing to the entire archdiocese and the entire Orthodox world”. He plans to continue his predecessor’s outreaches beyond the ethnic Arab community, continuing an emphasis on young people that’s always marked his ministry. He said, “The problem is, whether within the archdiocese or any other jurisdiction, we’re losing the new generation because we don’t have much for them”. He said it’s important to meet with and listen to young people regularly. He expects to be a regular visitor at Antiochian Village and elsewhere, saying, “I have a fancy office here (in New York), but you won’t find me in the office most of the time… I’ll be on the road”.

He said he’s on equal footing with the newest of converts, noting, “Even though I was born in the faith, I have to convert to the faith daily by practising the faith and doing virtuous and Christian actions”. Echoing the Patriarch’s concerns for Syria, he said that cousins have died and a young great-nephew suffered serious wounds in the fighting in his native land, observing, “Christians and Muslims lived side by side for all those years. Now, various factions are destroying Christianity. We’re between this and that.”

Patriarch Youhanna said that he has no word on the whereabouts of his brother, Bishop Boulos al-Yazigi, or fellow Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim following their kidnapping in April 2013 near Aleppo. The relatively sparse news reports on them give different accounts of which Islamic extremist group may be holding them. Patriarch Youhanna lamented how little attention their plight received in news or diplomatic circles, “We see an international silence about this matter, which is a shame for all the world when we speak about democracy and human rights”.

6 December 2014

Peter Smith

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Mollard is in Moscow. The OCA knew EONS ago about this event. No doubt, Mollard was going to be there. Note well that HH called Mollard in without any advanced warning. This means that HH is VERY concerned about something. This kerfuffle will affect future relations between the AOCANA and the OCA. Normally, HH would NOT call Mollard in at such a time… but something happened after the USA put its three carpetbaggers in the Uniate junta. I wouldn’t trust Peterson or Dahulich (both are going to the installation), but who else can the OCA send? Watch Dahulich schmooze with the radical konvertsy element in AOCANA (I don’t think that Dahulich really left the EP in his heart-of-hearts). If I were the Antiochians, I’d watch who he confabbed with… he’s capable of leading a bloc of parishes out of the OCA and AOCANA into Bart’s grasp. The OCA was abysmally stupid to have taken him in as a bishop. What’s done is done… it won’t be pretty in the end, I’ll wager. Watch events and watch Dahulich… he has the capacity to be another Rusantsov or Pashkovsky. We’ll regret having enabled him, I fear.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Russia Nixes Western Move at UN to Condemn Syria for Air Strikes Against Insurgents

00 Syrian Arab Air Force Mi-24 attack helicopter. 09.01.14


According to media reports, Russia blocked an effort at the UN to condemn Syrian government air strikes on insurgents holed-up inside cities in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. Reuters reported that diplomats said that Russia suggested so many amendments to a UK-sponsored motion that the UK withdrew the proposal, finding it weakened to the point of an empty gesture. Russia strongly backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; it’s repeatedly blocked moves to condemn his régime in the continuing Syrian Civil War. AFP stated that the British proposal expressed “outrage” at Assad’s targeting of civilians in his forces’ bombardments of urban areas during the Battle of Aleppo, which is still in issue between rebels and government forces. The Syrian government enjoys total air supremacy over the opposition rebels. Apart from brief international unity over the decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile brokered between the USA and Russia, the UN is in gridlock over how to respond to the Syrian crisis. Russia vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions condemning Syrian government actions since the civil war broke out in 2011. According to the UN, the present conflict caused over 100,000 deaths and displaced over a million people.

9 January 2014



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Monday, 11 November 2013

11 November 2013. News Roundup on the Two Abducted Bishops in Syria

00 Metropolitans Boulos and Gregorios. Syria. 10.11.13


A day after the Syrian Grand Mufti claimed that the two kidnapped bishops were in Turkey, Lebanese Maronite Bishop Boulos Nabil al-Sayah said that there isn’t any clear information regarding the whereabouts of two bishops abducted in Syria earlier this year. On Monday, he told al-Mada radio, “There’s no clear information about the two abducted bishops in Syria, Boulos al-Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim, since they were kidnapped. Even Qatar doesn’t have a clear picture of the abductors and what they’re asking for in exchange for the bishops’ release”. In April, armed men abducted the bishops whilst they were en route to Aleppo from the Turkish border. Reports placed the bishops in the hands of a small group of rebels in the town of Bshaqtin, 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) northwest of Aleppo, but on Sunday, Syrian Mufti Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun said that they were in Turkey. Recently, Qatar promised to help resolve the case of the abducted bishops and try to secure their release. Bishop Boulos regretfully said, “The bishops were kidnapped and the countries supporting the gunmen are unable to determine their fate. The kidnappers have outside backing, so, it’s the duty of their backers to find out the fate of the bishops”.

28 October 2013

The Daily Star (Lebanon)



The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, the spiritual leader of Sunni Muslims in the country, claimed that he has information that the two Orthodox bishops of Aleppo, kidnapped in April, are alive and outside the country. Interfax-Religion reported on the story. Yelena Agapova, Vice President of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, a Russian NGO that plays an active role in the Middle East and delivered aid to Syria stated, “According to information from the Mufti, they’re in Turkey”. Agapova stated that on 28 October Mufti Hassoun met in Moscow with representatives of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society. The Grand Mufti is of the opinion, “I see the hand of Chechen militants and Turkish special services behind the kidnappings”. The Mufti believed that the kidnapping might have a link to Ankara‘s request to transfer the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East from Syria to Turkey. During his visit to the Islamic University of Moscow {its web address still has the old “.su” suffix… fancy that: editor}, Mufti Hassoun complained that at least 2,000 Russians, mostly from the North Caucasus, are in the ranks of the armed Syrian opposition.

In April, a group of militants, who killed their driver, seized Metropolitan Boulos al-Yazigi (Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch) and Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim (Syriac Orthodox Church). The two Orthodox leaders were doing humanitarian work in the village of Kafr Da’el, near the Turkish-Syrian border. The MP expressed “deep concern” about their fate. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, chairman of the MP DECR, told AsiaNews in late August, “In all this time we haven’t any news of where they are and how they are. There are many rumours, but none of them have official confirmation”.

29 October 2013




According to a statement issued on Wednesday, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied reports that two bishops kidnapped in Syria were in Turkey. Referring to earlier reports circulated on 12 August alleging that the bishops were in Turkey, the statement blamed the Syrian government for spreading false information, noting, “We’ve observed that similar allegations are now being repeated by Syrian officials in the context of their contacts with the Russian Federation. These accusations are completely baseless and untrue”.

In April, armed men abducted Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos al-Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim whilst they were en route to Aleppo from the Turkish border. Reportedly, they were on their way to negotiate the release of three missing priests. Reacting to reports that we now know who the kidnappers are, and that there’s evidence that at least one of the two bishops was alive, Lebanese Maronite Bishop Boulos Nabil al-Sayah reiterated that there was no indication pointing to their imminent release, saying, “There are no negotiations. If there were negotiations, there would’ve been the beginning of a resolution. This is what’s worrying, that there’s nothing”. He added that, so far, we don’t know whether the bishops are alive or who kidnapped them. Bishop Boulos went on to say, “The Emir of Qatar promised us explicitly to do his utmost to try and find who kidnapped them, where they are, and what their situation is, and if they have demands”, adding that the Qataris hadn’t yet followed up on their pledge. Boulos also observed that the Greek and Syriac Orthodox Churches of Antioch are following up on the issue, “What we find difficult to understand is that they [the bishops] were kidnapped by one or more factions fighting the [Syrian] government. Someone must be feeding these people money, arms, and support of all sorts. We don’t understand how the states that are arming these people can’t step in and [pressure] them [to release the bishops]”.

31 October 2013

The Daily Star (Lebanon)



Kathimerini understands that alleged comments made by Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun last week over the fate of two Orthodox bishops abducted in the troubled Middle East country earlier this year raised hopes that the two clerics are still alive. According to the Russian media, during a visit to Moscow on Tuesday, Hassoun said that he had information that Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos al-Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim are alive and that they’re in Turkey. Subsequently, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the allegations. Bishop Luka al-Khoury, a representative of Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East {he’s the brother of the abducted Greek Orthodox bishop: editor}, told Kathimerini that the Patriarchate was aware of the comments, but it didn’t have any firsthand information about their whereabouts, noting, “We hear all sorts of things, but all we can do right now is pray for them”. In April, gunmen seized the two clerics near the northern commercial and industrial hub of Aleppo, contested by rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government suggested that anti-Assad rebels carried out the abduction. Comments made by Lebanese intelligence chief Abbas Ibrahim on Tuesday reinforced optimism about their fate, as he said that he knew the whereabouts of the two bishops, adding that he was negotiating for their release.




There one has it. The only thing known is that the bishops are now in their eighth month of captivity, with no news whatsoever of where they are and who’s holding them. There’s nothing more one can say on the matter, kids… they’re in limbo. Light a candle and pray… that’s all that’s left to us.



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