Six Syrian Orthodox Bishops have publicly condemned the actions of their leader, Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch. Vatican Insider reports that they are concerned about the Patriarch's respectful displays towards Islam. This includes referring to the 'Prophet Mohammad' and raising a copy of the Quran in a gesture showing respect.
The six bishops have issued a statement that describes the Patriarch's actions as 'contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Holy Gospel'.
However, a larger group of bishops, some 30 in total, has come to his defence. This group has described the criticism of the Patriarch as 'rebellion against the Church'.
The Syrian Orthodox Church, which is thought to have around five million members worldwide, is based in Damascus, the capital of Syria. Some of its members have been on the front line of the persecution of Christians by Islamic State. However, the Patriarch said of his actions: 'Christ loves everyone, and calls us to be peace-builders with everyone.'
The Patriarch is no stranger to the dangers posed by extremist Islamism in Syria. Last year he was the target of an attempted suicide bombing by a man dressed as a priest – he was protected by security checks which foiled the attacker.