Embodying God’s Peace this Advent By Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, CMEP Executive Director
Recent history includes much sadness, devastation, and loss for many across the Middle East. In June of 2023, the Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, wrote:
“I woke up almost every morning this past week and heard distressing news from Palestine and Israel. It is hard not to be discouraged… But in the midst of such news – we must remind ourselves that even when we cannot immediately see tangible results, our work continues to provide critical education, advocacy, and engagement in response to violence and oppression. We are motivated by our faith not to give up hope but to remain steadfast and diligent. I continue to say… ‘Despair is the luxury of the privileged.’ If our friends, colleagues, and partners in the Middle East continue to remain in situations of conflict and as they continue to pursue peaceful responses to human rights violations and violence – who are we to give up hope?”*
Prayers for the Softening of Hearts and for the People of Gaza
From the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Archbishop Saba, Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of all North America, offers prayers for the softening of hearts, and for the people of Gaza. We invite you to pray alongside CMEP member denomination the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America in offering these prayers:
As you read the prayer below we invite you to share your own reflections and laments in the comments below.
Register for the weekly time of prayer, Wednesdays 12:30-1 pm EST.Register here.
It is with tremendous sorrow for the lives lost and unprecedented violence in Israel/Palestine that I write today. CMEP has just released a statement condemning all acts of violence committed against civilians over the past twenty-four hours and calling upon the U.S. to support the safety and dignity of all people impacted– Israeli and Palestinian. Our full statement is below.
CMEP Condemns All Acts of Violence, Calls for Prayer, and Implores Global Leaders to Address Core Issues of the War between Hamas and Israel
October 7, 2023 Washington, D.C.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is deeply grieved by the news coming out of Israel and Gaza today. CMEP condemns all acts of violence against civilians that have occurred in the past twenty-four hours, as fighting has escalated between Hamas and Israel. As of late Saturday (EDT), reports indicated that hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded, both Israelis and Palestinians. CMEP mourns with the victims of the violence and their families.
The actions of Hamas and the Israeli response in Gaza in no way advance peace, but rather cause loss of life and harm, grief, and devastation, not only to the individuals affected, but also to the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people in seeking an end to the decades long occupation and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Throughout this year, CMEP and allies have urgently been calling attention to the evolving context, characterized by escalating levels of violence between settlers, soldiers, and Palestinians. The increased nationalism and radicalization within Israeli society have led to more frequent and numerous incidents of hatred, racialized tensions, settler attacks, and incursions onto Muslim and Christian holy sites such as Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. These realities are not justifications but have long been ignored by the international community, including the longstanding frustration and desperation of the Palestinian people who seek an end to the oppression of the occupation and Israeli desires for lack of fear and for security. It is time for the US and the international community to strengthen efforts to de-escalate the systemic violence that has gone on for decades.
CMEP reiterates its consistent call for a negotiated, just, and peaceful resolution to the conflict that advances security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians. A just peace will only be realized when all parties respect and protect the full human rights of all. In light of the current war, we make the following desperate pleas:
CMEP calls on all parties to end all acts of violence and aggression and to pursue peaceful and diplomatic resolutions to accomplish their desired outcomes.
CMEP is concerned that Israel’s response is disproportionate and urges it not to engage in military actions that devastate Palestinian civilian populations. CMEP opposes Israel’s practice of collective punishment of all people in Gaza, including the turning off of electricity and water.
CMEP calls on Hamas to stop all acts of aggression, the targeting of Israeli civilians, and the taking of civilian hostages.
CMEP calls on the United States government, including the Biden Administration and Congress, not to act rashly but to prioritize immediate diplomatic measures to bring an end to the violence, including through the United Nations.
CMEP urges the US government to refrain from providing further unrestricted material and political support for further militarization of the conflict but rather focus on the protection of all civilians, especially the most vulnerable. The US must not prioritize the support of one side of the conflict over another but support the safety and dignity of all people in the Holy Land, including Israelis and Palestinians. While the United States empathizes with Israeli suffering, so should it empathize with Palestinian suffering. Furthermore, the U.S. should not exacerbate the problem by ignoring the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for their rights.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) calls upon all Christians and people of faith to pray for peace – not an empty peace devoid of justice, equality, and hope for all people, but a deep, lasting, and just peace that addresses core systemic issues of the conflict, from Palestinian needs for self-determination and freedom to Israel’s needs for safety and security.
In this time of great lament, suffering, and fear, we turn to God in a joint plea to end the violence and destruction of Palestinian and Israeli lives. In this urgent situation, we ask that you join us in prayer. In my own prayers, I am meditating on the words of Psalms 9 and 10, reminding us of God’s mercy for the suffering and the oppressed.
“The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9-10)
“O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline their ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:17-18)
In our grief, may we join together to ask for God’s mercy in this desperate time by offering the following words:
God of Justice, bless those who work for peace through justice. Strengthen their resolve in the face of seemingly endless violence. Guide the leaders of the people of the Middle East to know your will and to support a just peace for all of your children.
God of Love, lifting up the holy land for all humankind, breathe love and compassion into our prayers with a desire for nothing other than peace: peace in our hearts, peace for all creation, and especially peace in the land that is called holy.
God of Hope, we lift up the city of Jerusalem, distracted and divided, yet still filled with promise as all the cities of the world. Come again into our cities, places of worship, Upper Rooms and Gethsemanes, that we may be given sight to recognize you.
God of Mercy, even as we long to understand that which is often beyond our comprehension, we lay before you the hearts, minds and bodies of all those suffering from conflict in Palestine and Israel and from the ongoing occupation. Shower upon all the people of the Holy Land the spirit of justice and reconciliation.
God of the Nations, give to all our people the blessings of well-being, freedom, and harmony, and, above all things, give us faith in you that we may be strengthened to care for all those in need until the coming of your son, our Saviour and Lord.
“A Prayer for Peace in the Middle East,” courtesy of The Church of Scotland, Christian Aid, and the Scottish Episcopal Church, in partnership with the worldwide ACT Alliance.
As we hold one another through this time of grief, please share your own prayers, reflections, and laments in the comments below.
The final session of the Embrace the Middle East and Churches for Middle East Peace “Conversations with Middle East Christians” webinars featured Rev Colin Chapman speaking to Dr Martin Accad and Revd Dr Rima Nasrallah from Lebanon.
Dr Accad grew up during Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990). He served as Chief Academic Officer at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary until 2020 and is leader and founder of the Action Research Associates.
Revd Dr Rima Nasrallah is the associate professor of Practical Theology at the Near East School of Theology. She is an ordained minister at the National Evangelical Church of Beirut and is active in the work of Embrace’s partner the Middle East Council of Churches.
Thirty years ago on the 13th of September, with a great deal of fanfare, the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization met in Washington and signed the Oslo Accords. For many of us, this was an occasion for hope, a promising signal of a brighter day in the Middle East. The Accords established a process of land for peace in Israel/Palestine; the ultimate outcome being two states- Israel and Palestine, with peace and justice for all.
Thirty years later, what we celebrated as the dawn of a new day for the peoples of Palestine/Israel has failed to deliver. The hope and promise of September 13, 1993 has proved to be an illusion. On that day we were like the people of Jeremiah’s time, hearing words of peace, when there is no peace.
The Unknown Saint of Armenia – The Devout and Beautiful Hrispime
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
During my September 2022 travels to Armenia, I had the opportunity to visit ancient churches and learn about the oldest Christian State. Armenia’s king converted to Christianity and made Christianity the state religion in the early 4th century. Proud of their Christian lineage, the Armenian Orthodox Church centers the community around the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, considered by many to be the oldest cathedral in the world. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Ecumenical Director and Diocesan Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) led our delegation from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Our purpose was to learn about the late 19th and early 20th century of genocide against the Armenians and to have a better understanding of the current conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. I did not expect how spiritually moving I would find our pilgrimage, which included the sharing of some of the early stories of faithfulness and deeply rooted Christian faith in the ancient country of Armenia.
My favorite piece of Armenian history is that of Saint Hripsime (pronounced Rip-se-may). Hripsime lived during the third century, a beautiful woman who escaped from the clutches of an evil emperor in Rome and committed herself to live a simple life of Christian mission in response to her love of Christ.
The Work of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem
By: Father John Paul, Rector of Tantur
The Tantur Ecumenical Institute can trace its foundation to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. Few people realize that this historic Council had a number of Protestant theologians and church leaders serving as “observers” as well as advisors to those writing the documents of this Council, especially on Ecumenism. The momentum in ecumenical dialog and conversation was further enhanced in 1964 with the historic meeting, in Jerusalem, between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Beatitude Athanagoras. Flowing out of that meeting was the desire to found (in Jerusalem) a center for theological study, dialogue, and research that would continue to build bridges of understanding and reconciliation between the various churches in Western Europe as well as the Orthodox and Oriental Churches in the East. Thus, the Vatican was able to obtain from the Knights of Malta a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem and establish this Ecumenical Center.
Do dreams really come true? Well, mine did! On January 3, 2023, I boarded a plane bound for Tel Aviv. Bucket list item #1…check. I booked this tour a year and a half prior and told anyone who would listen that I was going to The Holy Land: I was going to Israel.
I have a very dear friend, Hassan, who is an American of Palestinian descent. In the Summer of 2022, my husband and I were on our way to Arkansas with Hassan and his wife Jennifer to see their son play baseball. During that long drive, I told them the news that I would be going to Israel on a pilgrimage to The Holy Land.
Hassan snapped his head around and glared at me as though I had just cursed his mother. Jennifer quickly interceded with, “She is going to The Holy Land… It’s a tour of The Holy Land.” I couldn’t understand Hassan’s reaction, so I asked him to explain, and he proceeded to tell me of how his grandparents were forced to leave their homes and businesses. He relayed to me the stories his mother would tell of how they were able to bring very few possessions, which were put in the back of a truck and taken to Jordan. Hassan’s mother knew she was born in January, but her birth certificate was left behind with the rest of her family’s belongings, so she never knew the day. I could not imagine these things happening; I did not know the history of Palestine and some things he was telling me just weren’t sinking in. Hassan told me to simply go on the trip and see for myself. He said that when I returned, we would talk.
What I saw and learned on that trip was beyond my imagination. On the first day of our trip, we were in Bethlehem. Tensions were very high throughout the entire city. We would find out later that this was because a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The unarmed child was killed because he did not respond to the soldier’s command fast enough. We were told about the different license plate colors, one for Palestinian cars and one for Israeli cars, and the problems these plates can create for border crossings. We were told that many Palestinian families keep the keys to their old homes, which they were forced to leave decades ago, in the hopes that they will someday be allowed to return. This simple idea of keeping keys filled me with such sadness, hopelessness, and despair. I learned about the Nakbah, where military forces entered Palestinian homes and forced the inhabitants to leave, while new families moved into these same houses under the watchful protection of the same forces.
The Work of the World Council of Churches in Jerusalem
By: Yusef Daher – Coordinator of the WCC Jerusalem Liaison Office*
The World Council of Churches’ Jerusalem-based programs include the very successful Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine Israel (WCC-EAPPI) which was created in 2002, based on a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country. EAPPI is a continuous presence of 25-30 Ecumenical Accompaniers on the ground who serve for three months in accompanying, offering protective presence, and witness. There are now almost 2000 former Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), of whom many keep involved and interested in working towards a just peace in Palestine and Israel. These former EAs have served, lived and accompanied communities in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, North West Bank and the Jordan Valley throughout these years. This has meant monitoring checkpoints, accompanying children to school in front of a settlement, or accompanying field owners and shepherds to their lands within closed military zones or behind the separation barrier.