Patriarch John X Speaks on the Abducted Nuns of Maaloula, Syria

pat-john-antiochSource: Antiochian Archdiocese

His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, issued the following remarks on December 5, 2013 at a press conference in Balamand, Lebanon:

Amidst the calamities besetting Syria and the bloodshed afflicting our people and amidst the uncertainty that still surrounds the fate of our metropolitans Boulos and Youhanna in Aleppo, it is with deep pain that the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East has received news of the abduction of her daughters, nuns and orphans of the Monastery of Saint Thekla in Maaloula on December 2, 2013 and their being transported to Yabroud. Because our initial attempts to obtain the release our abducted daughters did not achieve the desired outcome, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East calls upon the international community and all governments to intervene and make efforts to release them safely. She likewise calls upon the conscience of all humanity and upon the spark of living conscience that the Creator, may He be exalted, sowed in the souls of all those who worship God, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters the nuns and the girls of the orphanage.

Our appeal to the international community: Although we are grateful for all the feelings of solidarity, we no longer need denunciation, condemnations, or “feelings of concern” about the assault on human dignity that is occurring, because all this is engraved in the conscience of every one of us. Today, however, we need concrete actions, not words. We do not want voices of condemnation from decision-makers, whether regional or international, but rather efforts, pressure and action leading to the release of those whose only fault was their clinging to their monastery and refusing to leave it.

We reiterate our call to stop the logic of conflict in Syria and replace it with the logic of peaceful dialogue and not to use stalling the start of dialogue to make gains on the ground because Syria is bleeding and with her too our hearts. Let all know that one drop of innocent blood shed on this earth is holier and more precious than all the slogans in the world. Let all understand the the bells of our churches, we the Christians of the Middle East, which were hung and rang in time immemorial, shall continue to ring out and be heard as the sound of our love and our peace for others, with their various religions, throughout the world.

The cruelty of the present days shall not uproot us from our land, because it is our being, our essence and a piece of our heart. Given the new circumstances exemplified by the abduction of the nuns and orphans of Maaloula, with regret we announce the suspension of our official patriarchal pastoral visit to our children and parishes in the countries of the Arabian Gulf, which had been scheduled between the sixth and seventeenth of December 2013, and our return to Damascus to follow closely all efforts and communications related to this latest incident. I greet all of our children in those countries and all those who labored to prepare the schedule for the aforementioned visit. I hope that my visit to them will be at the nearest opportunity. You, our children in the Gulf, you whose sweet and honored faces, dear to my heart I was eagerly looking forward to meeting tomorrow, I apologize to you all for suspending this visit after you had made all arrangements for its success. I pray for your health, blessing and success. May God protect Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East and the people of the Middle East.

Thank you to the media who have made it possible for Antioch’s pain and Antioch’s hope to be heard in all the world.

Translation provided with permission by Notes on Arab Orthodoxy.


  1. Archpriest John Morris says

    Why is the US government not doing something about this. Our government is partially responsible for giving aid to the rebels. If the rebels turn Syria into an Islamic state with ties with Al-Quade how is that in our national interests? Obama and his people have made a real mess in the Middle East by trusting Islamic radicals. Look at Egypt where Obama thought that we could work with the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result the Coptic Orthodox are suffering terrible persecution. We helped liberate Libya and got Bengazhi in return. When will he learn, or does he really care if the whole Middle East falls under radical Islamic domination?

    • Fr. Hans Jacobse says

      Fr. John,

      I think the answer lies in the limitations of the secular world view, or even worse a secularized mind. Secularism eschews religion. For that reason a susceptibility for utopian false promises emerges, in this case the Arab Spring and its claims for liberty, freedom, and so forth that by all indications Obama, Clinton, and others really bought into. (Both liberal and neo-con foreign policy is expansionist. There is no real functional difference between them.)

      From the other direction, taking the claims of militant Islam seriously would compel serious engagement with the Christian foundations of the West; something the secularists are loathe to do because it reveals the inadequacy of much secularist thinking.

    • Fr. Morris,

      You have a short memory. Early on in the Syria conflict; while Assad was using jets to bomb civilians (Muslim & Christian) and using tanks indiscriminantely to kill civilians, the U.N. and U.S. wanted to become actively involved. RUSSIA vetoed any U.N. involvement and told to U.S. to stay out. Russia, supporting the mass murder of Assad, also said it would protect the Christians of Syria. Have we seen or heard of Russia protecting the Christians in Syria or anywhere in the Mideast? NO. As an Orthodox nation, is Russia protecting other Orthodox all over the world? NO. So you see, Russia created the Syrian problem and continues to do nothing to stop the murdering in Syria. Everyone wants the U.S. to do something, but what about Russia who vowed to help? Russia only cares about it’s geo-political position & influence in the Mideast supporting Assad & Iran. Furthermore, Russia is sponsoring the Winter Olympics and Putin doesn’t want Islamic bombs going off. Yes, the West could have helped stop the slaughter in Syria, but RUSSIA is the culprit in this mess, not the U.S.

    • Francis Frost says

      Dear Father John:

      The simple answer to your question is that he US government has little, if any influence that it might bring to bear on the situation. In recent years the US government has been in a overall retreat from the region. When the US could not get a ‘status of forces’ agreement with the Maliki government all US forces were pulled out of Iraq with subsequent increased sectarian warfare and a resurgence of the Al Qaeda in Irag movement. In the power vacuum left by US retrenchment other players have stepped in to press their own agendas.

      The Obama administration has alienated former allies by its abandonment of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and its recent rapprochement towards Iran. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Emirates are the primary financiers of the rebel groups in Syria. The US government now has very limited influence with the rulers of these countries.

      What is more, the is no one rebel force. The BBC reports:

      There are believed to be as many as 1,000 armed opposition groups in Syria, commanding an estimated 100,000 fighters.

      The 4 main rebel groups are: the Free Syrian Army, composed of defectors from Assad’s own army. This is the only rebel that has any connection to the US or ‘the West’. The FSA has received some CIA training and non-lethal equipment. Armaments were promised by the Obama administration after the mass gas attacks in Ghouta; but have not been delivered as yet.

      Al Quaeda in Iraq, now renamed the “Islamic State of Iraq and Al Shams” (ISIS) has gained control over much of eastern and northeastern Syria. Al Nusra Front has control over much of central Syria.

      The fourth major rebel group is the Chechen mercenary army named Sharia Committee of Jaish al-Ansar wal Muhajirin (“Army of Emigrants and Helpers”). It is this group that is linked to the attacks on Christians, the kidnappings of the Archbishops and the nuns of St. Thekla’s monastery; and the wanton destruction of Christian homes churches and entire communities. You may read more about the Chechen attacks on Christian’s in Bishop Basils address from September 8th, which may be found on the “Notes on Arab Orthodoxy ” website. The number of Chechen militants in Syria runs from estimates of about 200 to as much as 1700 fighters. They are feared even by their fellow Muslims for their brutality and cruelty.

      For more on the Chechen jihadist army read the Radio FreeEurope article:

      The Chechens have a long history of violence against Christians. Historically , Chechens raided Georgian villages to kidnap children for sale as slaves. In the 19h century, the Russian Empire conquered the Chechens in an extremely bloody campaign. In the 1940’s the entire Chechen population was deported to Kazakhstan by Stalin with a consequent loss of 40% from death and disease. Chechens returned to Chechnya only in the late1960’s During the Russian invasions of Georgia in 1991 – 1993 and 2008 ;Chechen militias and other North Caucasian Muslim militias were used as proxy armies to do the dirty work of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. In 1993, the Chechens rebelled against Russia and achieved a 6 year de-facto independence.

      In 1999 a series of apartment bombings left nearly 300 dead in Russia. These attacks were blamed on Chechen terrorists and were the rationale for the re-conquest of Chechnya under Putin. Later, Alexander Litvinenko detailed in book “Blowing Up Russia” how the KGB staged the apartment bombings in order to launch the second Chechen war. Litvinenko was assassinated by Polonium administered by Andrei Lugovoi, a fellow KGB operative and member of Russia’s Duma (parliament). Lugovi has been indicted by the British government but enjoys immunity from extradition in Russia.

      The second Chechen war left over 100,000 dead including a substantial number of ethnic Russians in the carpet bombing of Grozny and Gudermes,. That war ended when the Russian leadership was able to co-opt Ramzan Kadyrov, one rebel leader, who is now Putin’s client king in Chechnya.

      The Chechen jihadists in Syria are primarily composed of Chechen emigres, refugees from the 2000
      re-conquest, as were the Tsarnayev brothers, the “Boston Bombers”.

      The ‘Great Powers’ have the capacity to set great evils in motion; but have not nearly as much capacity for mitigating or ending that evil. Beware the law of unintended consequences.

      I would urge every reader of this web site to forward the articles from the “Notes on Arab Orthodoxy” to their legislative representatives as there is nearly no reporting on the plight of Christians in Syria in the usual news outets. The US press has nothing and even the European press has minimal information. There are few if any qualified reporters on scene. Anthony Shadid, the NY Times reporter, and Oklahoma City native, died earlier this year from an acute asthma attack while traveling on the Syrian-Turkish border to report on the conflict. His insight will be sorely missed.

      • George Michalopulos says

        Interesting overview. A couple of points: 1) just because Litvinenko said that the KGB blew up those apartments doesn’t mean that they actually did. 2) in light of everything you write about the Chechens, a reasonable man can infer that they are all-around bad asses. Their cumulative contribution to human civilization is practically nil.

        Question: why in God’s holy name would we let these people in the US? Have we lost complete control of our senses? (Answer: quite obviously.)

        • Francis Frost says

          George: Two thoughts:

          Yes, the Chechens have a long history of violence and aggression against their neighbors. They also have suffered almost 200 years of violent and cruel oppression by the Tsarist Empire and its successor states.

          As for the Tsarnaev family, there are many unanswered questions. In fact, the Tsarnaev’s never actually lived in Chechnya. The Tsarnaev parents were both prosecuting attorneys (in effect state officials) in Soviet Kazakhstan, where the Chechens lived in exile after the 1942 deportations. How these people got refugee status is a mystery, among many others. The senior Tsarnaev’s failed to adapt to America and returned to live in Makhachkala, Dagestan. How a radicalized Tamerlane Tsarnaev, who was on a Russian watch list, was able to enter Russia and spend 6 months in the heart of the Russian Jihad is another mystery.

          When Tamerlane Tsarnaev travelled home to Dagestan in the months before the Boston bombing, he was known to have met other jihadists including an ethnic Russian with Canadian citizenship, William Plotnikov, who was later killed by the Russian security services. Even so, the Russian security agencies gave no notice to the US of Tsarnaev’s presence or his activities in Dagestan. The Tsarnaev’s were reportedly radicalized by a Russian-Armenian convert to Islam in Boston. It is likely that we will never know the entire story; but it is entirely possible that there is a hidden story behind all this.

          Another thought on Father John’s query as to why the US has not done more on behalf of the victims of the war in Syria:

          Earlier this year, after the Assad regime gassed over 1,300 civilians including 426 children in Ghouta (a Damascus suburbs), President Obama threatened Syria with airstrikes. At that time, our community cried out loud and clear: “Hands off Syria!” We prevailed and what we have is a “hands off” Syria policy. Beware what you ask for, you just might get it! As it turned out, Obama’s “red line” threat was a bluff, an empty threat he never planed to back up with action.

          Instead of appealing to the US government, which is at best a bit player in this drama, our leaders ought to use their contacts in the Middle East to appeal to the Saudis, the Qataris and the Emiratis who are sponsoring and funding the jihadists. Of course, an appeal on moral and humanitarian grounds may carry little weight with the Wahhabis who divide the world into Da-al Islam and Dar al Harb (House of War). The Wahhabis are not likely to care about the destruction of Christian communities, since the destruction of Christian communities is their religious doctrine and policy.

          It is quite popular these days among the Orthodox, and particularly among posters on this web site, to disparage the US and the “decadent” West in general. If you want to know what a world without US influence and American values look like, look to Syria today. Not a pretty picture.

          We tend to forget that the “decadent Western” tolerance for others is the only guarantee for other’s tolerance for us! Our immigrant ancestors understood this.

          The ancient Greeks taught that when God wants to punish a man for his hubris, He gives that man what he asks for. Beware what you ask for, you just might get it! You may not like our “decadent Western” liberal democracy; but the alternative is always worse. Look at Syria.

          • George Michalopulos says

            Francis, thank you for your measure response. A not-so-minor-quibble however: you state categorically that the Assad regime “gassed over 1,300 civilians…” in Damascus. That has not been proven, in fact, many questioned the need for Assad to do this. The first “confirmation” for this atrocity came from Israeli operatives who have been fanning the flames of American involvement in yet another useless Middle-Eastern misadventure. Seymour Hersh (a man of the Left) has done much to debunk this allegation.

            • Hersh has a lot of misses as well as hits, and this is another case where he will almost certainly end up with egg on his face. The Israelis? Really? No, the Israelis do not in fact want Assad to be replaced by unknown actors, especially an Islamist faction.

              I am aware people have a vested interest in seeing Assad remain in power, but that doesn’t change the harsh reality that it is an almost certainty that government controlled forces were responsible for the Damascus attacks. This is pretty clear to anybody who has been paying attention.

              I will say this, I’m pretty sure the regime didn’t actually intend to kill quite that many people in a single gas attack. External platitudes in defense of their client aside, you can bet the Kremlin was….very unhappy to phrase it politely.

              • Peter A. Papoutsis says

                Nice hit piece on Hersh. By all means lets discredit the man, but no War occurred and no more lies pushed us to waste our money and people. So who cares as long as we stayed out of it. No more neo-con noble lies. No thanks.


            • Tim R. Mortiss says

              Here’s a question nobody seems to ask here about Assad: what has he done to protect the Christian communities in Syria? His regime is on the spot, after all.

              Looks to me like he’s done a fairly poor job since the whole thing started.

              What you did in the past is nice, but what have you done for me lately? There’s the question in the real world.

  2. Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD says

    Peter, please provide indisputable, verifiable evidence that the previous administration “lied to us to get us involved in a Middle East conflict.”

    • DC Indexman says

      Why don’t you try this? This is a very interesting piece written in the New York Review of Books Dec. 19, 2013 edition, that puts truth to the old cliche — politics makes strange bedfellows

      Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now by Mark Danner

      A bare two weeks after the attacks of September 11, at the end of a long and emotional day at the White House, a sixty-nine-year-old politician and businessman—a midwesterner, born of modest means but grown wealthy and prominent and powerful—returned to his enormous suite of offices on the seventh floor of the flood-lit and wounded Pentagon and, as was his habit, scrawled out a memorandum on his calendar:

      Interesting day—
      NSC mtg. with President—
      As [it] ended he asked to see me alone…
      After the meeting ended I went to Oval Office—He was alone
      He was at his desk—
      He talked about the meeting
      Then he said I want you to develop a plan to invade Ir[aq]. Do it outside the normal channels. Do it creatively so we don’t have to take so much cover

    • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD says

      Thank you, Peter and the anonymous “DC Indexman,” for having the courtesy to take up my challenge by citing a couple of publications. Whatever kernels of fact either may contain, they do not even begin to rise to the standard I set: “indisputable, verifiable evidence.” One is essentially a chronicle of “events” in short bullets, while the other is an op-ed piece in the guise of a book & film review. Both pieces are quite obviously ideologically-driven (from the left, of course) collections of assertions and allegations, most of which, if not all, are not subject to verification.

      I posted my question not to reopen here the controversy surrounding the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. (Full disclosure: I served as a U.S. Army chaplain ministering to Orthodox U.S. and Coalition troops and civilians in Iraq on four occasions.) Nor do I intend to pursue any additional rabbit trails that you or others may suggest. What motivated my post was a revulsion at the facile charge that a president of the United States–in this case George W. Bush–“lied” to the American people to provide cover for a military intervention in the Middle East that would, according to that “logic,” intentionally misuse and abuse the armed forces of this country and take a toll in human lives and material resources–all in pursuit of a personal agenda hidden from the American people. Such an accusation is unworthy of this Orthodox message board and, if I may get more personal, any American citizen without incontrovertible, easily accessible proof.

      Rather than pursue this sideshow further, may we agree that more temperate language is in order and simply “move on”?


    Seymour Hersh found that Obama misled America about who executed the chemical attack in Syria. The Post and the New Yorker passed on the story. Interesting stuff.


    And evidently Met. Philip refused an audience with his highness due to his lack of peace this Christmas season.

    • Archpriest John Morris says

      Good for him. Axios Metropolitan Philip for having the courage to stand up to Obama.

  5. cynthia curran says

    Just pray and make noise to the politicians it takes time.

  6. Michael Bauman says

    Father John, surely you realize that the last U.S. Administration to go against the power of Islam in the Mediterranean world was Thomas Jefferson. Every President since has either ignored the plight of the Christians and/or supported whatever Islamic or, in the case of Israel-Jewish, power was ascendant at the time.

    The list is long, brutal and telling.

    The plight of indigenous Christians in Africa and the Middle East is without any political allies in the United States in any party. Why should it be?

    Why would you expect it to change?

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      Somehow I doubt the Israelis are going to let anybody go around killing the Christian communities in Israel, or the Muslim ones, for that matter.

      So, what’s the solution? Who’s going to “protect the Christian communities in the Middle East”? This is one of those questions that not only has no answer, it isn’t really even a question.

      I don’t think Jefferson went against the “power of Islam”; he went against the Barbary pirate-states. As a lifelong Christian (and American), I can’t think of any theory under the American constitution or laws that would ever support the idea of special protection for foreign Christian communities in themselves.

      I know the Tsar once purported to appoint himself protector of Ottoman Christians. That helped a lot…..

  7. Michael Bauman says

    My point is that it is folly to think that any American President or any other world leader, especially in this age, cares a fig about the plight of Christians. Heck even Christians in the US don’t care much. Part of the reason for the seeming apathy is that even if one does care, there is little that can be done to protect minority populations in other countries.

    To expect such action and then become frustrated when it does not occur is naïve, IMO.

    The idea that Lincoln expressed in the Gettysburg address was always a bit of a fantasy (government of, by and for the people) but it ceased having any semblance of reality not long after the words left his mouth.

    As we more and more became involved with ‘foreign entanglements’ that Pres. Washington warned against, the needs of the state became paramount over the needs of the people.

  8. Tim R. Mortiss says

    There was an excellent segment on tonight’s 60 Minutes on CBS about the Coptic church and its present persecution in Egypt. Really an outstanding piece, I thought.