Missing: Does anyone care?

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.

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  • Our Father in heaven have mercy. Rescue these two Bishops. Help us remember your faithfulness exemplified through your Church in Syria. In Jesus name we ask.

  • Arman Vladimirovich

    American Christians are not Pravoslavnyi and never will be there is only one Bible, one Testament, and one Christianity and that is orthodoxy there are no grey lines.

    • paulblattner

      My friend, I am Orthodox by God’s grace and I am also an American. If someone is suffering for the name of Jesus, I am their supporter EVEN if I think they are not in the church or their doctrine is heterodox. In this kind of case, no lines, grey or otherwise apply. You should be ashamed.

      Lord have mercy on us all.

      • I think it is interesting to note that (if I am not mistaken about the facts here), one of these bishops is Chalcedonian, and the other is non-Chalcedonian. I mention it merely to underscore the point raised by others here that religious differences in this story (whether they are subtle as in the miaphysitism issue or more pronounced as in the differences between Orthodox overall and, say, mainstream American Protestantism) are unimportant.

        Well, unimportant except perhaps in one respect: Orthodoxy is so little known and scarcely reported in news and even in the religion sections of the American press, that this does underscore how overlooked it is, even when the story is about major Orthodox figures. If a Pope of Rome dies, the story is everywhere. If one of the (Orthodox) Popes of Alexandria does … not so much.

  • Marta L.

    This will probably sound harsh but (although I am moved to prayer and concern) I’m not sure this is something the US govt should be involved in. These men aren’t Americans. They don’t have any tie to America that I can see, other than the fact that they are Christians and many Americans identify as Christians. We should be concerned about them and probably be reaching out to some group that’s more applicable –Amnesty International springs to mind, or maybe a Christian group that works overseas like Samaritan’s Purse– but expecting the US government to be particularly involved in rescuing Christian leaders makes me uncomfortable. It’s just not the job of the US govt in my mind.

    Nor am I all that surprised we didn’t hear about these disappearances. The American news does an atrocious job of covering overseas news, and the fact that some men disappeared in a war zone hardly would lead the nightly news. I hate the fact that I’m so jaded about this, and I honestly do hope they’ll be saved. I’ve already said a prayer and written an email urging SP to use what influence they have in the region. It just seems… I don’t know, that the way Dr. Dalrymple proposes we go about this seems a little off-focus to me.

    • I sort of feel the same way, but one thing they could do would be to stop doing what they’re already doing. The US government has been sending monetary aid to the Syrian rebels who are behind the kidnapping. Perhaps we could start to help the situation by stopping that funding of these terrorists.

      • Marta L.

        That sounds reasonable to me, Jason. I would ask why we’re funding the rebels to begin with and see how we could accomplish those same goals without giving to people who are resorting to kidnapping anyone. That’s just not the kind of group I want America to be working with.

        Of course, perhaps we have no business giving money at all. But if we had a good reason to give money this kidnapping may not change that. Best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.