AT A time when things are looking dire for Christians in the Middle East, they have acquired an articulate new spokesman who is also relatively young by the standards of clerical greybeards. At a gathering in Lebanon on Monday, the Orthodox Christians bishops with jurisdiction over Syria, Lebanon and much of the Arab Christian diaspora made a surprise decision to bestow on John Yazigi, who is currently serving as an archbishop in Paris, the ancient title of Patriarch of Antioch. The newly elevated prelate was born in 1955; his predecessor, who died earlier this month, came into the world in 1920.
"We share the same fate with our Muslim brothers and we will work together," he vowed.
"Our confidence in our people is very deep and our path is the path of the cross," Yaziji added.
Answering a reporter's question, the patriarch stressed that "Christians will remain in Syria and it is their land."
"Our country suffered a lot of difficult periods, but we will stay" in Syria, he added.
"Throughout history, we have always been with all parties and all groups in Syria," Yaziji noted.
Born in Latakia, Syria in 1955, Yaziji earned his school and university education in Syria.
He earned a degree in theology in 1978 from the St. John of Damascus Faculty of Theology at the Balamand University and a doctorate in theology in 1983 from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.
He was appointed a deacon in 1979 and a priest in 1983 and in 1981 he took up teaching liturgy at St. John of Damascus Faculty of Theology at the Balamand University.
He assumed the position of dean of the faculty from 1988-1991 and 2001-2005.
He became the head of the Our Lady of Balamand Monastery from 2001 to 2005.
In 2008 he was elected as the Metropolitan of western and central Europe.