Russia condemns capture of two Christian priests in Syria

The Moscow Patriarchate has called on the international community to make a concerted effort in order to secure the release of two Orthodox metropolitans abducted in Syria's Aleppo Province.

"We are currently taking measures to establish their whereabouts in order to help them and secure their release from captivity as soon as possible," Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, told journalists on Tuesday.

This task should be tackled by "joint efforts made by representatives of the international community, human rights and other international organizations such as the UN, as well as the civilian authorities of the states that are involved in what is happening in Syria today," he said.

This sad event comes as another reminder of the "need to stop the continuing bloodshed in Syria as soon as possible, as well as the fact that political dialog, no matter how difficult it can be, is the sole way out of this situation," the metropolitan said.

"When Western powers provide weapons to cutthroats and murders, kidnappers and extremists, such acts cannot be justified by any far-reaching political goals," he said.

Likewise, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia hopes that Christian leaders abducted near Aleppo will be released unharmed.

"I am making all possible efforts now to facilitate the soonest possible release of the abducted archbishops from captivity. I am praying that the Lord keep them unharmed and return them as soon as possible to the suffering congregation, that He strengthen you in the trials that have befallen you and establish peace on Syrian soil," Patriarch Kirill said in a telegram to Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East.

Patriarch Kirill said he considers the incident a grave crime, since it was aimed against clerics, "whose mouths are accustomed to proclaiming only words of prayer and calls for peace and fraternity."

"It is tragic that such things happen on Syrian soil, where religious figures have traditionally been treated with great respect," Patriarch Kirill said in a document cited on Tuesday by the communication service of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations Department.

In a letter to Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill said, "We have once again seen an inhuman and cynical action committed by those whom the media are trying to portray as fighters for freedom and democracy."

"This horrible deed eloquently reveals the true goals of those who have unleashed the bloody standoff in Syria. Our Church is praying for health and the soonest possible release of the abducted hierarchs," Patriarch Kirill said.

At the same time, the Russian authorities condemn the capture of two Christian priests are taking measures to release the two as soon as possible.

"Moscow decisively condemns the capture of the Syrian Christian priests and demands they be freed immediately and unconditionally,"the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"The Russian side is actively making all necessary efforts - in contacts with governmental structures of the Syrian Arabic Republic and through other various channels - to assist the quickest release of the captured Christian priests," the statement said.

"This criminal provocative act confirms once again extremists' emphasis on aggravating the interreligious disagreements in Syria, harmful to the country and the whole region. The international community has to give active consolidated repulse to such dangerous actions," the statement said.

The media reported earlier that Syrian opposition fighters kidnapped Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo Youhanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul (Yazigi) of Aleppo and Iskanderun, Patriarch John X's brother, on April 22. Their driver, also a priest, was killed. The archbishops were dealing with humanitarian problems of the local population in the village of Kfour Dael near the Syrian border with Turkey.

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