Thank you pastors of El Cajon and East County for your willingness to get together with your Christian brothers and sisters from Iraq. Our pain because of what’s happening to Christians in Iraq has been heavy and your love has made our pain more bearable. We love you, we appreciate you and we are blessed by you.
Few of the Christian pastors in El Cajon who were involved in planning this prayer vigil asked me to frame the issue for you tonight. Why are we here?
A month ago the City of Mosul was taken over by a group called The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or ISIS). Many Christians and even other people left the City over night. Many elderly people died in the exodus. The grandmother of one of our sub-deacons at St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral was one of the people who passed away on the road out of Mosul.
Some of the Christians stayed in Mosul even after it was taken over by ISIS.
So early last week ISIS issued a warning to Christians to either convert to Islam, or pay a humiliating tax without specifying a ceiling (basically a tax that would have bankrupted the people) or leave with only the clothes they are wearing. The fourth option would be to die by the sword. Later in the week they took the tax option out so the Christians now had three options, convert to Islam or leave or die.
They marked the Christian homes with the Letter N. Under the letter N they wrote “Property of the Islamic State” So over night the Christians wake up in the morning and find out that their homes are marked with an N and now they no longer own their homes and they either convert, leave or die by the sword.
So here is what happened, these fathers and mothers put their kids in their cars if they had a car, got whatever material possessions or valuables they could in their cars and started leaving the city. When they get to the check point at the city outskirts you would think they would just let them through but here is what the savages did: they asked these families to get down from their cars, they stole their cars and everything they had packed in their cars, started harshly beating them, took even any money or jewelry that was on them and just let them walk in the open for hours until they reached the next town. No water, no medicine, no food just the clothes on them and their children. This is like a group of ruthless savages takes over the City of El Cajon, they go to Christian homes, kick you out of your home and out of the City with your children and you have to carry your children and walk to El Centro with no food and no drink having just lost your home and everything you have and you don’t know where to go or what to do.
One of the families told them they don’t have any more money so they tried to kidnap their three year old son so the mother started wailing and spilled her purse on the ground in front of them and begged to have her son back which thank God they did.
What is the crime of these people that they had to deserve this? Their only “Crime” is that they are Christian. Followers of Jesus of Nazareth. This is what the N stands for “Nazoreans” this symbol is “N” in Arabic.
Followers of the Jesus of Nazareth. But the reason for their persecution is not that they are followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Because Jesus is recognized in the Koran, the Muslim book but only as a human being, as a prophet. The Christians are persecuted because they believe Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son. It’s because they believe that there is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. It’s because those Christians believe that in the fullness of time God the Father incarnated and became a human being in the person of His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, He died for our sins and rose from the dead and that is the reason for our hope.
Jesus is mentioned in the Koran but he is viewed only as a prophet like Moses and Elijah but when Christians worship Him because He is God incarnate in the form of a human being, Muslims consider that to be blasphemy to worship a “human being”. And that “blasphemy” deserves the death penalty unless they pay a heavy tax or in the case of the Mosul Christians be stripped of everything and thrown in the desert with their children. Not all Muslims treat Christians that way but over the ages Christians have been treated that way by many Muslims and in many parts of the world.
The Christians of Mosul are also considered blasphemers because they celebrate the Holy Mass following the tradition of their ancestors which came from St. Thomas the Apostle who evangelized the people Mesopotamia which is modern day Iraq. These Christians of Mosul do worship the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist because in pure apostolic tradition during the Holy Mass after the priest utters the words of the Lord in the last supper “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” these Christians who were kicked out of their homes believe the bread is no longer bread but the body of the Lord and the wine His precocious blood.
The third reason Muslims call us blasphemers is they accuse us of worshiping the cross. They call us “Ubbad Al Saleeb” or “Worshippers of the Cross” in a derogatory way. But of course we don’t worship the piece of wood but the cross is the instrument of our salvation. They don’t admit that.
Muslims admit that there was a man named Jesus but he was only a prophet according to them, and they say that the person who was crucified was not him, it was someone who looked like him and that of course he never rose from the dead. So they do believe Jesus existed but that he is only a prophet but they don’t believe Jesus is God, they don’t believe he was crucified or rose from the dead.
So the Christians of Iraq worship the man Jesus, worship His presence in the Eucharist and revere the cross. This is our “crime”. This why we “deserve” to die or be humiliated and be stripped of everything.
Imagine the faith of these your brave Christian brothers and sisters in Mosul. Not even one of them gave up their faith. Not even one of them agreed to deny the Lord Jesus Christ at all costs.
They had the chance to be treated as princes and Kings in Mosul if they had converted to Islam but they were willing to give up everything even their life for their faith in the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, in the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His passion, death and resurrection.
Today we are celebrating their steadfast faith and we call on all people of good will to pray for them and do all they can to make people aware of their plight and put pressure on our government (White House and Congress) to recognize what happened in Mosul last week and at least speak up and do something.
The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is not new
At one point there were 600 monasteries in Iraq before the advent of Islam. Today there is only a handful and in Mosul the few remaining were over taken last week by the invaders.
For the first time since St. Thomas the apostle went to Iraq after our Lord rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and evangelized the people of Mesopotamia, Holy Mass was not celebrated in the city of Mosul last week. Because all the Christians and their priests and bishops are gone.
Since the advent of Islam in the 7th century Christians have been persecuted in their ancestral homelands.
Did you know that the first genocide or holocaust of the 20th century was a Christian Genocide/Holocaust? Which started in 1915 during World War 1 by the Turkish Muslims? The Turkish killed 1.5 million Christians in the beginning of the 20th century most of them Armenians, but there were many Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs among them. Turkey still to this day refuses to call it genocide or holocaust. The Christians were intentionally left in the desert to die slowly.
Some of our Recent Martyrs in Iraq include:
Oct 11, 2006: Fr. Paul Iskandar, Syriac Orthodox Priest found beheaded in Mosul.
Jun 2007: Fr. Ragheed Ganni, Chaldean Catholic Priest and three deacons were killed in cold blood after leaving church and refusing to convert to Islam.
March 2008: Bishop Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul and three deacons. The body of the bishop was found in a garbage dump.
April 2008: Fr. Yousif Aboodi another Syriac Orthodox Priest was shot dead in Baghdad in front of his family.
October 2010 terrorists stormed Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Church in the middle of Baghdad took over 150 people hostage for four hours, killed two priests, Fr. Thaer Abdal and Fr. Waseem Sabih, another fifty eight people were killed and 78 injured including many women and children.
2 bishops in Syria have been kidnapped for months and are still missing.
Brothers and sisters, your Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq need your help.
Thank you for coming out to pray for them. Thank you for your support.
Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your faith. Please tell everyone about what’s happening to the Christians of Iraq and other parts of the world.
I would like to close with a prayer from the Chaldean liturgy that we say during these days because these days we are celebrating the liturgical season of the apostles and we happen to recite many prayers in honor of the martyrs of the Christian faith. Our great bishop, His Excellency Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo and many of our priests worked tirelessly to produce this prayer book for us “Emmanuel” which is a translation of the liturgy of our ancestors. Our children and grandchildren can today in America pray like their ancestors prayed in Mesopotamia thanks to Bishop Sarhad Jammo.
Let’s together pray one of these prayers:
“ To You, O Great, Beautiful, and True Hope, whom the just and the prophets awaited in their age, the righteous pleased with their works, and the martyrs appeased by the precious blood that flowed from their necks, we beg and plead: grant us, O Lord our God, that we may take refuge in the power that is hidden in their bones and be aided by their prayers, and that with them, among them, within their ranks, around their dwellings, and in the glorious temples that were set apart for the honor of their service, we may be worthy to lift up glory, honor, thanksgiving and adoration to you, Lord of all, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever”
From the Chaldean Liturgy. Martyr Hymn said during the Liturgical Season of the Apostles.