April 22, 2013 is remembered by many as a day of "annus horribilis". It was a dark day in the histrory of the Church. It was a day when Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were seized by a terrorist group in the village of Kfar Dael on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey as they were “carrying out humanitarian work”.
It was a day when evil hands abducted two pious clergymen who dedicated their life to humanitarian work while upholding the noble teachings of Lord Jesus as mentioned in the Holy Bible which call for love and mercy.
The two prominent Syrian bishops had earlier warned of the threat to religious tolerance and diversity conflict that was wreaking havoc in their country. Archbishop Yazigi said that what was important was that the uprisings known as the “Arab Spring” should not jeopardize centuries of religious diversity in the Middle East. It was also related that Archbishop Ibrahim had gone to collect Archbishop Yazigi from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing because he had crossed the area several times and was familiar with the route.
On the other hand, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Syriac Orthodox Church confirmed the unanimous election of Mar Boutros Kassis as Archbishop for Archdiocese of Aleppo and Environs on Saturday, September 3, 2022. The seat of archbishop of Aleppo and environs became vacant after the abduction of Mor Youhanna Ibrahim on April 22, 2013. Furthermore, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch appointed Metropolitan Ephraim Maalouli against the vacant seat of Metropolitan Boulos Yaziji in October 2021.
These two nominations sadly draw a bleak conclusion about the fate of the two abducted clergymen with fewer than a decade has elapsed since their disappearance as it represents a state of hopelessness and helplessness. Up to this moment there has not been any lucid conclusion or statement about their fate or the side responsible for this heinous abduction.
History abounds with events relevant to the martyrdom of Christians. One of the most recent incidents is the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians by extremists which prompted an outpouring of grief and horror. Most of the victims hailed from poor villages and went to Libya to work as laborers to send money to families back at home. But they died a gruesome death at the hands of terrorists.
This is also reminiscent of the Biblical event relevant to the beheading of John the Baptist as "Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people because they considered John a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist. The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it." (Matthew 14)
With the elapse of years following the abduction of the two bishops as hopes still prevail for their safe return after so many years of absence, it is important to note that their disappearance gives courage to the faithful to continue to spread the message of love and peace to all people regardless of their affiliations because with the message of love we can easily defeat evil and set the stage for a bright future for humanity.
The message of love and peace spread by Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi will remain a shining message that calls for the elimination of crimes, violence, and murder as well as the restoration of the Holy Bible's message for fraternal love that blossoms goodness and hope.