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Prayers for the Captives and M.I.A.’s of the Artsakh War

His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, presided over a special prayer for those held captive and missing in action in the wake of the Artsakh war.

The service on January 10, 2021, was held at the St. Gayane Monastery following the Sunday celebration of the Divine Liturgy. At Catholicos Karekin II’s direction, similar prayer services were conducted in Armenian churches throughout Armenia and around the world. Members Holy Etchmiadzin’s monastic brotherhood took part in the ceremony.

Azerbaijan still holds a large number of Armenian prisoners of war, both soldiers and civilians, more than two months after the end of the Artsakh war. Human rights organizations have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights about roughly 200 prisoners, although the actual number of captives is unknown. International watchdogs like Human Rights Watch have presented evidence that Armenians are subjected to inhumane treatment by their captors. As of last week, some 60 Armenians, both civilians and soldiers, had been returned from Azerbaijani custody as part of exchanges between the two sides. The Reuters news agency reports that Armenia, by contrast, has returned all of its Azeri prisoners to their country.

In his remarks on January 10, Catholicos Karekin II spoke of the family members—parents, wives, and children—who hopefully await the return of their captive loved ones. “Our hope is not a mere feeling, desire, or baseless optimism, but a trust based on God’s faithful love,” he said.

Addressing the beleaguered citizens of Armenian and Artsakh, His Holiness said: “Let us be united and brave in these difficult post-war days. Let us remain strong in faith and hope to overcome the horrors of the war we have endured—to face the resulting difficulties and forge a new future of our homeland. We urge the servants of our holy church to continue their pastoral care with the same vision and zeal, to support those injured in the war, and to comfort the families of the captive and missing with the Gospel’s messages of hope and faith.”

An English rendering of his message appears below. Click the following links to:

  • READ His Holiness’ message in Armenian.
  • WATCH a video recording of his remarks.
  • VIEW photos of the January 10 service.

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The Message of His Holiness Karekin II

A Prayer Service for the Captives and Missing-in-Action of the Artsakh War

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Dear Children:

Today, we have united in our holy churches to pray to God for our brave sons captured or missing during the Artsakh war. Together with the fathers and mothers, wives and children of our soldiers, we all cherish in our hearts the hope that our sons will return home.

Our hope is not a mere feeling, desire, or baseless optimism, but a trust based on God’s faithful love. Such hope is never an embarrassment to us, as the apostle says, because God has spread His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. It is this hope that strengthens us to pray fervently for the freedom of our captive sons, and the rediscovery of the missing.

Unfortunately, the Artsakh conflict was impossible to resolve through a peaceful negotiation process. The Azerbaijani authorities were intent on solving the conflict through military means—and that is what happened. The war disrupted the peace and security of the region, causing our people heavy human and territorial losses, endless sorrow and pain.

Today, the Azerbaijani authorities continue the same behavior, along with their territorial aspirations. They manipulate the issue of returning the captives, searching for the missing, and extraditing the bodies of the victims. Our captive sons are being treated inhumanely; the norms of international humanitarian law concerning the captives are being violated. The exhortations of countries and international human rights organizations that value human life, dignity, and rights, are being ignored.

Our call and expectation is that in support of the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, along with His Holiness Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, Grand Mufti of the Muslims of the Caucasus, in the spirit of our trilateral meetings, the Spiritual Leader of Azerbaijanis should make a necessary contribution to the freedom of the captives, as well as humanitarian operations related to the killed and missing soldiers.

We express our gratitude to President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, for his personal efforts in the service of ending the war, peacekeeping, and humanitarian activities. We express our heartfelt gratitude to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia for his support to our people and the church in these difficult days.

We would also like to express our appreciation to the peacekeeping forces deployed in Artsakh; and to all the organizations and individuals taking continuous measures to equitably resolve the situation and the present problems. Peace remains stable only on the basis of justice, as the Bible testifies: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 84:11).

Dear Faithful: Let us be united and brave in these difficult post-war days. Let us remain strong in faith and hope to overcome the horrors of the war we have endured—to face the resulting difficulties and forge a new future of our homeland. We urge the servants of our holy church to continue their pastoral care with the same vision and zeal, to support those injured in the war, and to comfort the families of the captive and missing with the Gospel’s messages of hope and faith.

At this moment, dear ones, with a heartfelt prayer on our lips, let us ask our heavenly Lord for the Holy Trinity’s blessing and support, for the life of our homeland and our people all over the world. Let us ask for the heavenly graces of love and peace to be upon us all. Praying alongside our faithful children, we commend the captive, the missing, the wounded, and all of their families, to our benevolent Lord the Savior:

Merciful God,

You sent your Only Begotten Son to heal the brokenhearted, to preach freedom to the captives. We beg you to grant your divine mercy to our captives, so that they may return home safe and sound.

Send your angel of peace to strengthen the fathers and mothers, relatives, wives and children who wait with anxious hearts for the return of the captured and missing soldiers. Grant them the joy of reuniting with their loved ones.

Dear Lord, strengthen those who make great efforts to release the captives, to identify the missing ones and the unburied bodies of our fallen martyrs, and hand them over to their families.

Now, merciful God, listen to the kneeling prayers and requests of your people who trust in you. Help and support them; grant them courage and resolute spirit in this present time of hardship; fill their hearts with hope and faith in a bright, new day.

Almighty God, from the depths of our hearts we pray and believe that you will grant freedom to our captive children. We all look forward to their return, so we may glorify together with them your most Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now, always and forever. Amen.

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