Author: Admin

Prayers4Peace: I Extend My Hand to Light the Candles of Hope

I Extend My Hand to Light the Candles of Hope

By Jamil Qassas, Speaker for Combatants for Peace

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I’m not sure how I should start writing this message. I rarely write and I don’t like writing. I usually share spontaneously words from the heart, and I’m writing now words from the heart. I write these words while holding back my tears of pain from the horror of what I hear and see. I would love to share with you a moment of mixed feelings of fear of the future. We are going through the most difficult days, full of bloodshed, hatred, revenge, and a glimpse of hope. Yes, there is a glimpse of hope. I send you hugs, and I sympathize with you. Your sadness is my sadness, and your pain is my pain, and we also share hope, whether it is glowing or just a candle flame. My dear partners, the Palestinians have previously gone through four wars on Gaza, and today we are witnessing the fifth. Gaza was destroyed. Thousands of victims and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands were wounded. We have always seen support and compassion from you, as well as condemnation and refusal of violence, through protesting in the streets and in the squares against war. We, Palestinians, covered our wounds, buried our loved ones, and stood together side by side to raise our voices loudly. We are against wars. We fight together for freedom and a better future for all of us.

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Prayers4Peace: Conversations with Egyptian Christians

Conversations with Egyptian Christians*

By Embrace the Middle East

*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog

Archbishop Samy is the Anglican Bishop of Egypt and the Archbishop of Alexandria. Dr Ghada Barsoum is an Associate Professor at the American University of Cairo and an advisor to the Bishopric of Public, Ecumenical and Social Services (BLESS) – the development arm of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

As well as being a great destination for the holiday of a lifetime, Egypt is also a country with immense biblical significance and a long Christian history. It has a population of around 106 million, with Christians comprising roughly 10-15%*, making it the country with the largest Christian population in the Middle East.

Embrace the Middle East supports 10 different partner organisations in Egypt, in the fields of education, healthcare, women’s empowerment and helping people with disabilities.

Rev Colin Chapman: What does it feel like to be a Christian in Egypt today?
Archbishop Samy: Things have changed dramatically with the economic situation over the past year, and it is a great crisis for many poor people. But Egypt is a very stable country and, as Christians, we feel secure. Our vision for the church in Egypt is a living church for a better society. We are passionate about discipling, evangelising, and being salt and light in our communities. None of this is for its own sake but because we want to reflect the light of Christ and influence society for good. We are not an NGO doing social work – we are a living church, serving and helping society in so many ways.

Dr Ghada: I think we are at a historical moment – there is a strong emphasis on religious dialogue. The Egyptian president visits a church every Christmas Eve, which is very unusual in Egyptian history. 2013 was a very difficult time for Christians, and in less than a week 200 churches were burnt. Today, most of these have been repaired. The state even builds churches today, which is a new and unusual development.

Rev Colin Chapman: Tell us about the general situation in Egypt.
Dr Ghada: There are two crises that are defining the moment now. The first one is increasing food prices and inflation. The war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on this and Egypt is one of the top countries in the world impacted by it. We worry a lot about children – we have stepped up our nutrition programmes at BLESS and we provide nutritious meals to children on a regular basis.

The other big defining moment is what’s happening in Sudan. The conflict has led to a huge refugee crisis in Egypt. The Coptic Christian community in Sudan are generally upper middle class and well-educated, but they are coming to Egypt with nothing – and they are coming to the ‘mother church’ for help. The church had to respond – we started with food vouchers, and then onto housing. We used some of the church facilities for immediate housing for people with nowhere to stay. We’re now working on providing furniture and healthcare support, and getting children back into school.

Rev Colin Chapman: We talk a lot about the cost of living in our country. What is the reason for the economic crisis in Egypt?
Archbishop Samy: Covid-19 played a big role. Then immediately after that, the Russia-Ukraine war had a huge impact on pushing up food prices. It hasn’t been easy for us to cope with these big changes.

I think the government has been clever – bread is a staple here and it’s very important. The government has been careful to keep bread affordable, and as a church we try to offer to help to poor families, especially refugees, by distributing packets of food. We have thousands of refugees from Sudan – they have no home, no food. The need is great but we do our best to help people in need. At 5am, Sudanese refugees stand in the street around the cathedral, waiting for a small parcel of food – often they stand for hours, just waiting for this food. It shows there is a great need.

Rev Colin Chapman: How are the relations between the different Christian churches in Egypt?
Archbishop Samy: We have a wonderful relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church and other denominations, like the Catholics and the evangelicals. There are conferences we attend together and it is wonderful to have fellowship with many different Christians in Egypt.

When it comes to Christian-Muslim relations, the world can learn from Egypt! We have experience of living together for 1,400 years. We live in peace and harmony with Muslims – I have many Muslim friends and many Muslims come to the church for cultural activities. At our Centre for Christian-Muslim Understanding and Partnership, we have regular lectures from leaders in both faiths. We have lived with each other for many years – in many ways we understand each other very well. It is good to discuss what unites us rather than looking at the things that divide us.

Rev Colin Chapman: How can Christians in the west support Christians in Egypt?
Dr Ghada: We need to pray for the many people who are serving their communities. We need to pray for the peace of Sudan. Before the crisis, I never thought about Sudan but now we pray that these displaced people would be able to return to their homes. It is devastating for them. We also need to pray for wisdom – at BLESS, we have to make tough decisions all the time.

Archbishop Samy: Pray that our vision (a living church for a better society) will become true. Pray for the refugees ministry. So many things are happening in Egypt. Pray for us as we continue to serve God and reflect the light of Christ in different ways.

Following the conversation with Colin, webinar attendees were invited to put their own questions to Archbishop Samy and Dr Ghada.
Q: What is the role of women in Egyptian society?

Dr Ghada: The MENA region has one of the worst rates of female labour force participation in the world, and we’re not sure exactly why. Women in Egypt are not as present in public life as they should be. I think more women are starting to join the labour force, but we’re not yet seeing this reflected in the statistics. 

Q: For young Christians in Egypt, how do they engage with the church?

Archbishop Samy: This is a hard question. I think the most important problem for youth in Egypt is to find their vocation in life so it’s really important to give them training and opportunities to develop new skills. In the churches, when the church allows them to participate, many young people are so gifted.

Dr Ghada: We want them to have a strong relationship with God – that gives them meaning in life. A lot of the time we talk negatively (e.g. about high levels of unemployment) but we need to adjust the narrative and think about how young people can have a more purposeful life.

Q: How is the church engaging with climate change?

Dr Ghada: Water is a big issue. We have the River Nile but the water from River Nile is not enough for the growing population. We are working with farmers on improving irrigation methods and choosing the best seeds that can handle drier conditions. We are also working on sending text messages to farmers about expected weather patterns.

Archbishop Samy: We do a lot of work around raising awareness about this issue, for example in schools. We talk about keeping the environment clean and recycling. We want to help young people look after the environment. Climate change is a big problem for us in Egypt. Sea level rises pose a huge threat to Alexandria. 

Q: Can you talk more about how Christians in Egypt are helping refugees?

Archbishop Samy: More people are coming every day. The latest statistics tell us there are about 9 million refugees in Egypt. Egypt has always been a land of refuge, since the time of Jesus. We do our best to help and accommodate refugees. Egypt is not a rich country, but you cannot ignore people who cross your borders for help and support. The presence of refugees in Egypt does not help with the cost of living and inflation – but we welcome refugees because it is very important.


The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


*There are no official figures as to the exact number of Christians in Egypt.


The above post is a condensed version of the third session of our summer series, “Conversations with Middle East Christians”, from August 2023. Watch the full session above.

Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: In Conversation with Father Emanuel in Iraq

In Conversation with Father Emanuel in Iraq*

By Embrace the Middle East

*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog

In the second installment of our ‘Conversations with Middle East Christians’ webinars, in partnership with our friends at Churches for Middle East Peace, Rev Colin Chapman speaks with Archimandrite Abuna Emanuel Youkana. ‘Father Emanuel’ is a leader of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Director of CAPNI, an Iraqi Christian NGO. He is based in Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Father Emanuel opens by acknowledging that for many decades Iraq was making the news. Today, it does not feature so prominently in western media, but he hopes that his country is still in the minds and prayers of Christians around the world. He reminds listeners that Iraq is part of the biblical lands – it was the homeland of Abraham, and the prophets Jonah and Daniel walked there too. 

Today, Christians make up just 0.6% of the Iraqi population, compared to 3% before the 1991 Gulf War and the ensuing exodus of many people. Father Emanuel is passionate about shining a light on the practical and vital role of Christians in the land, who can trace their lineage back 2,000 years.

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Prayers4Peace: Conversations with Palestinian Christians

Conversations with Palestinian Christians*

By Matt Adcock, Head of Communications at Embrace the Middle East

*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog

I had the great privilege to hear the first of the Embrace the Middle East and Churches for Middle East Peace “Conversations with Middle East Christians” webinars, where Rev. Colin Chapman spoke with Christian leaders from Israel-Palestine. The two speakers shared powerful accounts of their experiences at the intersection between political situations and the outworking of their personal faith.

First was Jack Munayer, coordinator of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Jack describes himself as ‘a half British and half Palestinian Christian with Israeli Citizenship’.

When asked ‘After the recent violence in Jenin, what does it feel like to be a Christian in the land today?’ Jack replied: ‘I think that we are reaching now the point that we have been warning and expecting and dreading for decades… Since COVID the human rights violations, the violence, the challenges that specifically Palestinian Christians are facing, are reaching a turning point. I think that Jenin was a part of a new phase that we are about to enter where the levels of violence, displacement of people and carnage, in many cases, is what we are expecting to see in this next time to come.’

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Prayers4Peace: Revisited – Being Children of God

Prayers4Peace: Revisited

At Churches for Middle East Peace, we understand that the work of holistic peacebuilding and advocacy is ongoing, and sometimes, the issues we faced in the past are still present with us today in a variety of ways.

With Prayers4Peace: Revisited we would like to occasionally share some of our previous Prayers4Peace blogs with you that we believe are still important messages to us today. We hope that you are encouraged as you continue supporting in prayer those working towards a just peace in Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East.


Being Children of God

by Sarah Withrow King, Former Deputy Director of Christians for Social Action
Originally posted November 19, 2013

Lord Jesus,

We are mothers and fathers;
we are sisters and brothers;
we are a family connected by your love.

God, we acknowledge that we are all your children. Each of us created in your holy image. Each of us created to love you and to love one another.

God, we praise you as the creator and caretaker of all children. You see all of your children. You love all of your children. You want every child to flourish in communities of care and concern. We praise you, Holy One.

God, we confess that we have failed to love well. We confess that we see your children with eyes clouded by past hurts and prejudice, by fear and uncertainty. We see one another not as recipients of your precious love, but as enemies and strangers. We see one another, not as children see other children, with curiosity, joy, and excitement, but as  enemies view enemies, with animosity, anxiety, and mistrust.

God, we mourn for your children.
We mourn especially for children who nurse at their mother’s breast while rockets scream through the sky;
For children confused by prejudice,  unaware of the history written on their forehead.
For children who cannot go to school; for children who hunger and thirst; and for children who are sick but cannot access medical care.

God, we mourn for your children who live soaked in fear, instead of your love.

Lord Jesus, help us to love well.
Help us to see the old and the young;
the Christian, the Muslim, and the Jew;
the Syrian, the Israeli, the Iranian, the Pakistani,
the Japanese, the American…
every body as part of your body.

We love you, Jesus.


The original story was written by Sarah Withrow King, Deputy Director of the Sider Centre at Eastern University, and an associate fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Beyond Dehumanization

Beyond Dehumanization
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem
 

As I write, my heart is heavy with sadness and anger at the horrific dehumanization and hatred toward the Palestinian people by the Israeli military and police. This week has been especially painful for most Palestinians because of the senseless and brutal killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-respected journalist from Jerusalem. She was fatally shot, and her colleague, Ali Samoudi, was seriously injured by a bullet to his back, but he survived. The journalists were shot while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank. This area has experienced numerous Israeli military raids and lockdowns since March 2022, when some violent attacks were carried out in Hadera and Tel Aviv by individuals alleged to be from the camp or nearby. The raids and lockdowns have not only traumatized the civilians but also affected them socially and economically because those who work in Israel were denied entry into Israel. Jenin was closed even during Ramadan and the Easter Holy Weeks; therefore, people from that area could not participate in their special worship ceremonies in Jerusalem. This use of collective punishment by Israeli authorities is a violation of human rights.

On May 13, as the mourners carried Shireen’s casket, the Israeli police intervened by beating and throwing stun grenades at the mourners, including the pallbearers. What threat was a dead body? What security threat did pallbearers pose? At one point, the coffin almost fell to the ground. Why not let the family, friends, and the city mourn their daughter, sister, and friend? Shireen was a courageous journalist. One mourner I saw carried a poster with these words Shireen spoke at the 25th anniversary of Al Jazeera, “I chose to become a journalist to be close to people. It may not be easy to change reality, but I was at least able to bring their voice to the world.” Thousands of people came out to say goodbye to their beloved Shireen. Even her death has brought the voices of the Palestinians out to the world. 

As the armed officers terrorized the mourners, they also confiscated Palestinian flags, smashed the hearse’s window carrying Shireen’s body, and removed a Palestinian flag. It is reported that thirty-three people were injured, and some were hospitalized. Several Palestinian mourners were arrested, and most of these arrests were carried out by Israeli officers dressed in civilian clothes. Some in our team witnessed 3 of these arrests.

The international community has reacted with words like: “We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner” (Blinken – US Secretary of State). A statement from the European Union says, “The EU condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behavior by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession.” Many other internationals expressed their displeasure, but what does this mean for the Palestinians living under the occupation? What does this mean for people who live without knowing whether they will be allowed to go to work, school, place of worship, or farmland, or when they leave home if they will return without being harassed and violently attacked by the police or settlers? The inhumanity that the world saw during Shireen’s funeral is just one incident. It is one example of what Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories endure daily, whether in arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of access to their livelihood, worship, or any form of movement. Even after the condemnation of Israeli action at the funeral procession by various world leaders and internationals, on May 16, the Israeli military again attacked mourners going to the funeral of Walid Al Shareef. Walid succumbed to gunshot injuries incurred on April 29 at the Al Aqsa compound when the Israel police stormed the compound beating up the worshippers. It is reported that over 50 people were injured at the funeral and were brought to Al Maqseed hospital.


Firm action to pressure Israel to respect human rights and end the occupation must accompany the words of condemnation from world leaders. Each of us has a responsibility to do something to bring a positive change to the oppressed brothers and sisters in Palestine.


Susan Nchubiri is a Maryknoll Sister and a Master of Global Affairs student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, specializing in International Peace Studies. She is currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI program. She previously worked as a community organizer in Haiti where she founded 2 self-help women’s groups, a micro-credit co-operative, a community garden and goat-raising project for a youth group. Before that she has worked as a campus minister and pastoral care giver to students, migrant workers and prisoners in Hong Kong. Susan had also worked in campus ministry in Chicago and volunteered weekly at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.  She was program director at Euphrasia Women Refuge Center and at Maria House Imani Projects in Nairobi Kenya where she worked hand in hand with the social workers and instructors to support vulnerable women and children.

If you would like to learn more about the EAPPI program, please visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Small Things with Great Love

Small Things with Great Love
By David Hindman

“Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.” (Hebrews 13:3)

“I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me… I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 25:36b, 40)

In 2006 and 2009, when I was the United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, I was privileged to spend time with Daoud Nassar and his family at Tent of Nations outside Bethlehem in the occupied Palestinian territories. We planted trees and heard stories of their faithful and resilient efforts to embody Christ’s ministry in the place where Christ was born. Their 100-acre farm has been in the family’s possession for more than a century but is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements; from those settlements and other Israelis, they have experienced constant harassment. Although they have documents proving their ownership of the land, Daoud and his family have been embroiled in legal wrangling with Israeli officials for more than 30 years. Despite these hurdles, occasional acts of vandalism and intimidation, and frustrations, this Christian family continues to live by the motto, “We refuse to be enemies.”

Some years after my experiences, David Benedict, a fellow retired clergy and member of Williamsburg United Methodist Church, also visited and worked at Tent of Nations; currently, he serves on the Advisory Board for Tent of Nations North America (FOTONNA). Thanks to organizations like CMEP (Williamsburg UMC is a Partner Congregation), FOTONNA, and other allies, we were distressed to learn that earlier this year, a group of 15 masked men came onto the Tent of Nations property and severely beat Daoud and his older brother, leading them both to be hospitalized. We felt disheartened by this news, coming as it did after yet another delay in the legal process of finalizing registration of their ownership and last summer’s destruction of more than 1000 trees by Israelis. David and I wondered if some of the destroyed trees had been planted during our visits.  What could we do to communicate our care and concern and bear witness that the Nassars were neither forgotten nor abandoned? With the above scriptures in mind, we invited members of Williamsburg UMC to send messages of care, concern, encouragement, and hope. On two Sundays during Lent, we provided cards with messages of hope at a table in a high traffic area of our facilities. We encouraged members to sign their names and offer positive and faithful messages to the Nassars. We could not travel to the farm physically, but we could be with them spiritually in this simple but essential way. This action sparked many conversations as nearly 100 members of the congregation offered their prayers and affirmations. True, the Nassars are not literally prisoners in jail; but we imagine they may feel stuck every time their way forward is barred. They are being mistreated in unnecessary and unjust ways while they do so much to be faithful in their commitment to peace with justice for all; our efforts seem small. We hope and pray that “while we cannot all do great things, we can all do small things with great love” (St. Teresa of Calcutta).


A prayer in the words of Graham Kendrick:

Until your justice, Burns brightly again
Until the nations, Learn of your ways
Seek your salvation, And bring you their praise.

God of the poor, Friend of the weak
Give us compassion we pray
Melt our cold hearts, Let tears fall like rain
Come, change our love, From a spark to a flame.”


  David Hindman is a retired United Methodist clergyperson living in Williamsburg, VA. To learn more about Williamsburg UMC, visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Is Peace Possible?

Christian Palestinians speak in this amazing resource responding to the question “Is Peace Possible?”

The new book “Is Peace Possible in the Holy Land?” reveals Holy Land Christians’ struggle for survival amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Written by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land’s Justice and Peace Commission, this book contains a compelling collection of articles and declarations from the Catholic Church in Jerusalem. 

Including a pastoral letter from the former Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, chapters provide an in-depth, first-hand, authoritative understanding of the identity of Holy Land Christians. In addition, Is Peace Possible? includes numerous perspectives on the Israel/Palestine conflict emerging from the Christian community. The book serves as an excellent resource for background information for those making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

For example, Christians in the region, are called the “living stones” of the Holy Land as their communities date back to the time of Christ. Historically, Christians – predominately Arab Palestinians – made up 18-percent of the overall population. Today, they constitute less than two percent.

The first chapters serve as a backdrop to position papers, formulated by the Commission, that deal with various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These position papers were written to help the Church promote justice and peace in the region as an integral part of her mission.

Palestinian Christians confront difficult political situations on a daily basis.  At the same time, they strive to promote dialogue and reconciliation and nourish the faith, that peace might blossom for generations of future Christians, Jews, and Muslims, Israelis, and Palestinians.

This book is not for the faint-hearted. It paints an unsettling and frequently disturbing portrait of the life, trials, and systematic persecutions of the Christian Palestinians in the Holy Land. “Finally,” wrote one reviewer, “authoritative answers for those who have wondered where the Church stands on the situation in the Holy Land and its’ Christians!”

To read this powerful resource online, visit CMEP’s website here. The physical book is available at Amazon.com or at your local retailer. The U.S. editor and CMEP Catholic Advisory Council chair, Sir Jeffery Abood, can be reached at jabood@att.net.

 A Franciscan Blessing 

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart. 

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace. 

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy. 

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen.


We hope you will join us for a webinar about this important resource on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at 11:00 am EST. Facilitated by Julie Schumacher Cohen, former Deputy Director of Churches for Middle East Peace and member of the CMEP Catholic Advisory Council, and including representatives from The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and Palestinian Christians. Find out more and register here.

Advocacy: It’s More than Social Media

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, joins our host Chris Orme for the first episode of Season 3. Mae and Chris discuss different forms of advocacy, as well the spiritual formation that takes place through advocacy. 

The following is a transcript of Season 3 Episode 1 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

A few weeks ago, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that at least six families must vacate their homes in Sheik Jarrah by Sunday, May 1, 2021. In total, 58 Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, including 17 children, are being displaced so that Jewish settlers may take possession of their homes. The ruling of the court was the culmination of the decades-long struggle for Palestinians to stay in their homes that I witnessed on that tour bus back in 2009. 

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Commemorating Martyrs in the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq

Assyrian refugees in 1915.

Meet Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, archimandrite and priest of the Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq. Many Western Christians may be surprised to hear about the Christian presence in Iraq, but Iraqi Christians have had a continual presence since the first century after Jesus’ life and death.

Archimandrite Emanuel does not have formal seminary training because under Saddam Hussein’s rule from 1979-2003, there was no seminary education in Iraq. Instead, Emanuel studied electrical engineering at the University of Baghdad. After informal training through the Assyrian Church, he was ordained in 1987. He is married and has four adult children, most of whom went on to study politics and now live in Iraq and Germany.

The Assyrian church is an Eastern-tradition of the church, claiming theological and ecclesiastical continuity back to the first century after Jesus’ life. According to the Seyfo Center, “Assyrian” refers to “indigenous Christian peoples living in” Kurdistan, northern Mesopotamia, Northern Iran, South Anatolia and Syria“who speak (or once spoke) an Aramaic Semitic language.”

Assyrians have endured so many persecutions that they dedicate three days a year specifically to the commemoration of martyrs. April 24 commemorates the Turkish genocide of Assyrians during World War I, concurrently with the Armenian genocide, known as the Seyfo (Aramaic word for “sword”). Between 1914 and 1920, and especially between June and October 1915, the Ottoman Empire murdered more than 250,000 of the 600,000 Assyrians living in present-day southeastern Turky and Western Iran. Nearly all of the rest were forced to migrate to Syria and northern Iraq.

Second, The first Friday after Easter commemorates the faithful who were martyred specifically for their Christian faith, known as the Confessors. Friday of Confessors is known as a joyful feast

Third, August 7 commemorates all Assyrian martyrs, but specifically remembers the massacre of several thousand Christians in 1933. Iraqi general Bakr Sidqi systematically targeted Assyrians in the town of Simele in Iraqi Kurdistan.

While extra attention is paid to martyrs on August 7 and April 24, most of the church’s liturgies commemorate martyrs to some degree. The Church holds daily evening and morning prayers, each of which have hymns dedicated to martyrs. The Church remembers martyrs everyday except for Sundays, when they instead commemorate resurrection, during Lent, when a separate liturgy is observed.

Many martyrs are remembered personally, and continue to be a source of spiritual strength for the Church today: “Peace to thee, Mar Pithiun the martyr. Spiritual treasurer. Supply wealth to the needy. Who take refuge in thy prayers.” “Let us take refuge in St. George. That by the strength of his prayers. Our Lord may make straight our ways. And lighten the weight of our limbs” (PS Cxv 13, page 23-24, First Tuesday evening).

Martyrs are often compared to jewels, and the liturgy contains many metaphors describing the martyrs’ beauty:

“The martyrs are like pearls. For their images are fixed in the King’s crown” (Monday evening, 13).

“Fairer to look on than the children of men. The rose in the gardens is beautiful to behold. But more beautiful were the martyrs when they were killed” (Monday evening, page 14).

Archimandrite Emanuel held the first Christian worship service in Simele since the 1933 massacre. Freshly ordained, Archimandrite Emanuel was invited to start a parish and begin regular church services in 1987, where he has been serving since.

But persecution of Christians in Iraq does not remain in history past, rather it continues today. When asked to describe Iraqi Christians’ persecution today, Archimandrite Emanuel told this story:

Persecution here is more than personal; it’s also communal. In 2014, the city of Qaraqosh in Nineveh Plain had more than 50,000 Christians, with a large building and comfortable staff. They had schools, multiple clergy, even libraries and a seminary. Then on August 6—the anniversary of the 1933 massacre— everything was destroyed at the hands of ISIL, known in Arabic as Daesh. Churches were targeted specifically because they are Christian. Only recently have the small number of Christians remaining begun to rebuild the city.

In 1993, Archimandrite Emanuel was part of a team founding CAPNI (Christian Aid Program in Nohadra Iraq), an NGO in Dohuk, Iraq (Nohadra is the historical Assyrian name of the Duhok region. CAPNI’s goal is to “materialize hope” for Christians in Iraq. Abuna Emanuel explains, “Sermons mean little when a father asks for his livelihood, a mother for her medicine, children for their schools. Offering services and bringing people together materializes hope.” Learn more about CAPNI’s many services here.

Archimandrite Emanuel hopes that Western Christians would learn from the Assyrian church what it is like to live under persecution. Something unique about the Assyrian church, A. Emanuel explains, is that despite having a continual Christian presence since the first century after Jesus’ life, they have never lived under Christian rulers.

When asked how Western Christians can support the Assyrian Church, Archimandrite Emanuel explained that “God chose us to be his witnesses in these lands, and we accept this mission. We will carry his cross. We don’t ask for light burdens, we ask for strong shoulders. Our shoulders can be strengthened through your prayers as well. So keep us in prayer.”

When asked how he finds hope despite such discouraging circumstances, Abuna Emanuel explained he looks to the next generation: “When you visit a family, and the kids are smiling. We have five kids’ centers at CAPNI. And we have nice flowers in the gardens. Then, I feel and see hope in the children’s smiles and hugs and playfulness.”

The following prayer is another way Western Christians can express solidarity with these Christians:

Merciful God, we ask you to strengthen the shoulders of the Assyrian Church. Before you, we thank our Assyrian siblings for carrying the burden of remembering martyrs and facing daily persecution. As Assyrian martyrs instruct and encourage Assyrians alive today, may Assyrian Christians also instruct and encourage us Western Christians in the faith.

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KEVIN VOLLRATH is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion & Society at Princeton Theological Seminary. He produced this series of columns as the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). His home base is in Lambertville, NJ, but he currently is conducting fieldwork in Israel-Palestine and is the Manager of Middle East Partnerships for CMEP.


This article was originally published on the Read the Spirit blog.

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