If an Orthodox bishop is kidnapped on a humanitarian mission, and the American press ignores it, did it happen?
If a second Orthodox bishop is kidnapped while on a mission of mercy, and the American government is slow to respond, did it happen?
Sadly, the answer to both questions is “yes, two Christian bishops were kidnapped in Syria even if American Christian have remained oblivious.” One of the bishops is Metropolitan Paul (Yazigi), brother of my Antiochian Patriarch, John X. The other is the Syriac Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim.
American Christians often forget that the Middle East contains hundreds of thousands of Christians. The Christian liturgy is said in Arabic across the Middle East and Damascus (Syria) is the headquarters of the Patriarchate of Antioch. During the civil war raging in the country, Orthodox bishops have given relief to people who are hurting of every religion.
And yet these Christians remain forgotten: I once saw a proposal for Middle Eastern studies which included a proper focus on Jewish and Islamic people groups, but forgot Christians of the region . . . and this happened at a Christian university! Sometimes this forgetfulness is merely sad, but lives may be at risk due to our ignorance.
It was Turkey and Syria that followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Saint Paul came to the Faith there and planted churches throughout the region and Peter was a leader in Syria before he ever went to Rome. All the great Christian creeds were shaped by Syrian Christians from the lands now controlled by Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria.
And now two of the leaders of these ancient churches are missing.
Fortunately, Congressman Brad Sherman has sponsored a bipartisan appeal to the State Department to do something. This Sherman letter deserves the support of every citizen and every member of Congress.
This isn’t about politics, it is about brothers in Christ in harms way.
This isn’t about partisanship, it is a chance to show Christian compassion is more than platitudes.
It is a reminder that the biggest problems facing the global church often make our “first world” traumas unimportant.
What can you do? Why not call Congress and tell them that Christians are not invisible? Why not put love in action? My church has suggested the following:
With respect to your Congressional Representative, please immediately call, leave a voice mail and send an e-mail pursuant to the following instructions:
(1) call immediately your Congressional Representative’s Office in Washington D.C. (You can get the phone number by going to http://contactingthecongress.org/ and putting in only your zip code).
(2) When the receptionist answers ask for (1) first, the e-mail address of, and (2) then to speak to, the person in charge of Foreign Affairs or Syria for the Congressional Representative’s office and if you reach the aide’s voice mail, leave the following message:
“Please ask my representative to sign before Thursday the Sherman letter requesting the release of the two bishops kidnapped in Syria.”
And we must do the most important thing and pray.
For hundreds of years, the Christian people of Syria have witnessed to Christ by surviving to pray. Daily they have prayed for peace and for the salvation of the world from sin and injustice. Daily they have fed and clothed the poor. Daily they have faced the rigors of second class citizenship, but found ways to survive. Sometimes evil regimes have killed them, other times they have been captured by unworthy service, but for centuries the common Christian has prayed, served their nation as patriots and with dignity, and been sanctified by suffering.
We should pray tonight for their survival, because their prayers over the ages surely have done more good for us than we can imagine.