Voices from Russia

Friday, 12 December 2014

Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch Brings Message of Hope and Peace in North Jersey Visit

00 Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch. 28.09.13


For the leader of the worldwide Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, beset by worries over his congregation in the war-torn Middle East, it was a night of simple joy in the church’s North Jersey community. On Wednesday night, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East celebrated a service at St George Church in Little Falls NJ that drew hundreds of members of the ancient faith from across the region. Eager parishioners, who chanted and held cellphone cameras and video recorders high as he entered the chapel with a throng of clergy, greeted the patriarch… the church’s equivalent of a pope.

During the Vespers, or evening, service… said in English and Arabic… Patriarch Youhanna spoke for about 20 minutes about building unity between the church in the USA and abroad, as well as about peace in the Middle East, notably war-devastated Syria. He said through a translator, “We’re one church, we’re one community, and the distances don’t divide us, don’t separate us. We say to you, ‘We love you’”. According to its website, the Antiochian Orthodox church is the largest Arab Christian church in the world, with about 100,000 members in the USA and Canada. Parishioners hastily arranged the patriarch’s visit, scheduled only a week ago as part of a nearly two-week-long stay in the USA. On Saturday, the patriarch served at the enthronement of Metropolitan Joseph al-Zehlaoui, the new leader of the Englewood NJ-based American archdiocese, who also served with the patriarch at St George. Metropolitan Joseph said, “I’m ready to act, ready to serve you, be with you. I’ll live with you and die with you”.

Rev George Krevorkian, the archdiocese’s hierarchical assistant stated that the patriarch was to meet with national security advisers in the White House today and has a tentative meeting with the US Department of State on Friday to discuss the conflict in Syria, particularly the plight of Arab Christians. The patriarch’s brother, Bishop Boulos al-Yazigi of Aleppo, was one of two church hierarchs kidnapped by Islamic extremists about two years ago.

During his remarks, the patriarch, wearing black vestments and a gold crucifix, asked worshipers to pray for Syria and other Middle Eastern countries torn apart by violence, “We know our homeland is undergoing a very tough situation. We’re still hopeful, in spite of all the difficulty we face. We hope that in this Christmas season, this season will bring peace to the Middle East”. Patriarch Youhanna also spoke repeatedly about his pride in the Little Falls congregation for passing on its faith from generation to generation. St George began in the 1970s, but its original members worshiped for decades before that in Paterson NJ. He said, “We’re proud because, since your ancestors arrived in the USA 150 years ago, the first thing you decided to do was have a church in the community. We’re proud of you, because you carry in your hearts and chests this unshakable faith that holds forever”.

Rev Dimitri Darwich, pastor at St George, said the patriarch’s visit was an honour and a rare occasion for an Antiochian Orthodox church in America. There are two other Antiochian Orthodox churches in New Jersey, in Bergenfield and South Plainfield, but he noted that St George was the venue for the service because it has the largest congregation, with about 500 families. About 40 of those families are recent Syrian refugees whom the church supports with charity, help with immigration paperwork, and in finding jobs.

Darwich said that on Wednesday night, a crowd of about 300 filled the pews and balcony, far fewer than organisers originally anticipated, because a nor’easter dampened the plans of many nearby churches. However, the poor weather didn’t stop people from traveling from as far as Yonkers NY and Bethlehem PA for the special service. Cassia Robert, 17, and her 15-year-old brother, Joseph, called the patriarch’s visit a “grand” event unlike the services of their church in Allentown PA. Julia Kalyoussef, 58, of Clifton NJ, who grew up in Syria and is trying to help her sister immigrate to the USA, said it was important to hear from their leader in a time of crisis, saying, “We’re all looking to him to strengthen us in our beliefs”.

10 December 2014

Jeff Green




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.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Patriarch Youhanna sez Syrian Christians “Wouldn’t Submit and Yield”

00 Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch. 28.09.13


Greek Patriarch Youhanna al-Yazigi of Antioch and all the East said that Christians in war-ravaged Syria “wouldn’t submit and yield” to extremists who attack “our people and holy places”. In comments to mark Easter, Patriarch Youhanna called on the warring sides to end “intimidation, displacement, extremism, and takfiri (Islāmic extremist) mentality”. Such radicals are increasingly influential among rebels, they attack Christians as they see them as infidels and as punishment for what they consider Christian support for President Bashar al-Assad.

20 April 2014

Associated Press


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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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