Violence and chaos in the Middle East have left many around the world hopeless and feeling helpless. As followers of Jesus, we refuse to be sidetracked by the temptation to despair.
Prayers for Peace (P4P) provides a way for Christians of diverse political and theological backgrounds to stand up for peace and unite in supplication to God with a special focus on prayers for the Holy Land. Prayers for Peace provides Jesus’ followers with the common language of prayer around which to mobilize their energy and passion for the land that gave birth to our faith. To combat the prevailing images of discord, Prayers for Peace will highlight peace-building organizations that we may pray for them as they live out the reconciliation offered in the Prophets and Jesus’ message of peace.
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:
“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.
As you read the prayer below we invite you to share your own reflections and laments in the comments below.
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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.
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).
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.
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.
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.’