Washington, DC – In Defense of Christians (IDC), the nation’s leading advocacy organization for Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East and Africa, co-hosted the annual In Defense of Christians Ecumenical Prayer Service with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC on July 14, 2021 at 6:30 pm (ET). 

The Ecumenical Prayer Service occured in coordination with the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit 2021, co-chaired by Ambassador Sam Brownback, former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights.

The service fell on the one-year anniversary of the reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and offered solemn commemoration.

Various Christian traditions were represented at the Ecumenical Prayer Service, with prayers offered by the following members of the clergy:

  • H.E. Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • H.E. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Ecumenical Director and Diocesan Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
  • H.E. Metropolitan Joseph, Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
  • H.E. Mor Dionysius John Kawak, Archbishop and Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States
  • H.E. Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church
  • H.E. Archbishop Thomas Schirrmacher, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance
  • H.E. Irinej Dobrijević, Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America 
  • H.E. Bishop Denis Madden, Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB
  • H.E. Bishop Gregory Mansour, Bishop of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn 
  • The Right Rev. Eugene T. Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland 
  • H.E. Bishop Elias Zaidan, Bishop of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles 
  • Bishop Roy Campbell, Auxiliary Bishop, Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC
  • Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace 
  • Pastor Dr. Bob Roberts Jr., Founder of Northwood Church, GlocalNet & Multi-Faith Neighbors Network 
  • Pastor Andrew Brunson, Author of God’s Hostage

Additionally, distinguished guests listened to remarks offered by: Hungarian State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians, Tristan Azbej; Regional Coordinator & Liaison for Equity for Diverse Communities in MENA at USAID, Dr. Rita Stephan; USCIRF Chair, Nadine Maezna.  Keynote addresses were offered by IRF Summit co-chairs, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, and Ambassador Samuel Brownback

“My great appreciation goes to the efforts of IDC for the protection of persecuted Christians and for all the accomplishments you have undertaken over the years,” said Tristan Azbej. Click here to listen to his full remarks. 

Rita Stephan reaffirmed USAID’s dedication to promoting international religious freedom by stating “We are committed to working together to continue the recovery and the healing of affected communities. But we also want to take it a step further. No religious or ethnic minority will be safe anywhere unless we proactively work together to promote tolerance.” Click here to listen to her full remarks. 

Nadine Maenza emphasized IDC’s mission and event by stating that “It is only through this model of prayer and action that we are going to attack the idea of stopping religious persecution.” Click here to listen to her full remarks.

Katrina Lantos Swett made a powerful statement regarding the reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, noting that “we honor and revere mosques, but we do not honor and revere the theft of one faith by another. The trampling of one sacred place by another community–that is not right.” Click here to listen to her full remarks.

Samuel Brownback concluded the evening’s events by emphasizing the perseverance of the Orthodox community. “I appreciate your standing firm in the face of lots of different challenges, many of which most people would have given up on a long time ago.” Click here to listen to his full remarks.


To watch a recording of the Ecumenical Prayer Service, please click here.

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