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 highlightpeace-building organizations that we may pray for them as they live out the reconciliation offered in the Prophets and Jesus’ message of peace.
Prayers for Peace is thankful for the partnership of our board member organization Christians for Social Action in writing and sharing these prayers.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
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We recognize that all prayers for peace echo through the generations- worship and praise, petition and intercession, supplication, thanksgiving, and lament are the prayers of the faithful.
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.
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.
Mohammad El Kurd and the Settler Takeover in the East Jerusalem Neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
The first time I ever travelled through the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem I was on a tour bus. More than a decade ago, it was a Friday afternoon and I witnessed firsthand Jews, Palestinians, and internationals standing in solidarity — holding signs and calling out for “Freedom for Palestine” and an end to the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes by Israeli settlers. More than a decade later, the situation has only worsened and in fact, the current protests look eerily similar as solidarity demonstrations continue on behalf of the dozens of Palestinians facing eviction from their homes.
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.
Ramadan, the Muslim celebration of the Quran, is about to begin, and in Palestine, it has a special meaning. When observed faithfully, Ramadan changes both the individual and society. Several times over the last fifteen years, I have taken groups of North American students and led public delegations to visit Golan for Development, a human rights organization located in Majdal Shams in Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. I ask the Siraj Center in Beit Sahour to arrange these meetings to introduce my groups to the Druze, their religion, and Israel’s military occupation of the Golan.
Golan for Development resists Israel’s unlawful occupation and works for freedom, equality, and social justice by offering agricultural services to Druze farmers, by providing basic health services in the five remaining Druze villages of Golan, and by establishing a kindergarten, community theater, and music center for children. Beautiful, nonviolent resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation has given the Druze of Golan a higher quality of life than would otherwise have been possible, although they still suffer under Israel’s relentless domination.
It’s midnight. There’s a knock on the door. You yell that you are coming to open it in hopes that the soldiers don’t blow it open. Moments later, dozens of soldiers invade your house. Your children wake to masked soldiers with guns pointed directly at them, yelling in a language your children don’t understand. They force your family into one room and tear your house apart without explanation. This is the reality that many families have faced across the West Bank.
Night raids are one of the most devastating acts of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. The violent raids occur between midnight and 5 AM, often without the families getting an explanation. According to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 1,360 night raids are executed every year, the majority within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of a settlement or near roads that settlers frequent.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The dust of Holy Week turmoil has settled, but the grief of execution hasn’t.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
Anyone who has spent a weekend in Jerusalem knows about Jerusalem’s Sabbath rotation: Friday in the Muslim quarter, Saturday in the Jewish quarter, and Sunday in the Christian quarters. Anyone traveling over these days must be careful to coordinate the different bus or train systems and their unique sabbath observances.
Sabbath observance varies between and within faith traditions but is often a joyful time of rest, worship, and family togetherness. Each tradition remembers God’s creation of the world and subsequent rest. Muslims observe Jumu’ah prayers Friday afternoon– “Jumu’ah” sharing its root with the Arabic words for mosque, Friday, and group/ gathering.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.
We began lent with this profound reminder of our mortality. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe we came from dust or dirt and can’t escape returning to our humble beginnings. Still, I feel the depth of this reminder’s meaning eluding me. Is there not more to me than the dust from which I came?
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.
As we enter Holy Week, this psalm invites us into prayerful wordplay. The Hebrew word translated as “peace” in the first line and “prosperity” in the final line is the familiar shalom, which means “complete” or “whole,” or “flourishing.” The verb here translated as “be secure” also means “rest tranquil,” from the Hebrew yishlayu—an alliteration of yerushalem, translated Jerusalem.
As we enter Holy Week, let us pray for the peace of the City of Peace. Literally.