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PRAY FOR PEACE IN NIGERIA

Within an hour I received two messages by email last Friday from opposite sides of the world and two different religious camps, both pertaining to the same thing - the atrocities in Nigeria perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists.  

The first came from the Baptist World Alliance with a message from Samson Ayokunle, President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention pleading with the world to pay attention to the suffering of his people in Nigeria.

The second came from Samira Kanji, President of the Noor Cultural Centre, a mosque which belongs to our Neighbourhood Interfaith Group.   Samira was horrified by the reports from Nigeria and was paying attention in a way that the President of the Nigerian Baptists prayed his fellow Christians would.  

Samira and her people spontaneously decided to invite their Christian and Jewish neighbours to join them in offering prayers for peace.  She wrote to invite me to lead some of the prayers as a Christian and she invited all who are moved to pray with her and her people.   

When the second message appeared it was like a grace to me.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of drawing false conclusions about all the members of a group based on the actions of a few, but the invitation to pray from Samira and her people was a call to something higher.  

The service will be held on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Noor Cultural Centre, 123 Wynford Drive, (on the south side just east of the Don Valley Parkway).  I invite you to join me.  

I have attached the article containing the message of Samson Ayokunle and the message from Samira beneath it.  


MESSAGE FROM BWA CONCERING PERSECUTION IN NIGERIA

Washington, DC (BWA)--Samson Ayokunle, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), has castigated the international community for ignoring terrorist violence and attacks in the West African country.  NBC is the largest Baptist World Alliance (BWA) member organization in Africa with approximately 3.5 million members in some 10,000 churches.

"My consternation is in the attitude of the international community toward the huge destruction going on in Nigeria," Ayokunle told the BWA. "The earnestness with which they intervened in the ISIL attack in Syria and Iraq, or the Taliban problem in Afghanistan, etc., is not shown in the case of Nigeria."

He accused the world community for devaluing Nigerian lives. "Does it not matter to the rest of the world if Boko Haram continues to kill hundreds of people every week? Are these people less human than those being killed in other place where they have gone to directly intervene? My people are being killed like animals and the whole world is just watching."  Ayokunle was responding to the latest spurt of attacks by Boko Haram, a jihadist group that seeks to establish Sharia law in Nigeria.

Boko Haram conducted the Baga massacre in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno in early January this year causing an unknown number of deaths, though estimates range from dozens to more than 2,000. In April 2013, more than 185 people were killed and more than 2,000 homes in Baga were destroyed as a result of fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.

Up to 2014, the group killed more than 5,000 civilians in attacks occurring mainly in northeast, northcentral and central Nigeria. Since 2009, Boko Haram has abducted more than 500 persons, including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014. An estimated 1.5 million have fled their homes because of threats and attacks.

"The situation is pathetic." Ayokunle declared. "The main targets in all these attacks are the Christians first and any other person that opposes them. Any town they enter, after killing the Christians there, they go ahead to bring down all the churches there sparing the mosques. Major Christian cities such as Gwoza and Mubi among others have fallen to them. Christians in cities such as Michika and Baga are also on the run."

The Nigerian Baptist leader said "the church is under siege of severe persecution." Baptists have been directly affected. "No Christian church is standing anymore in Mubi where more than 2,000 Baptists fled the city through Cameroon when Boko Haram attacked."

These Baptist Christians, he said, returned to Nigeria through another town called Yola in Adamawa State but never to their homes again. "They have become displaced and are now living in displaced people's camps scampering for food, without decent accommodation and naked."

Ayokunle said Baptist buildings, including the offices of the secretariat of Fellowship Baptist Conference of the NBC, was burned in Mubi, and the home of the conference president was vandalized. The conference president and Baptist pastors have fled to the city of Jos in Plateau state, another region that has been attacked by Boko Haram. "Our Baptist High School in Mubi has been closed while our Baptist Pastors' School in another neighboring town, Gombi, was indefinitely shut down."

He expressed appreciation for the prayerful support of Baptists and other Christians and requested financial support to assist those who have been displaced by the terrorist attacks. "Continue to join us in prayer so that the gates of hell might not prevail against the Church of Christ in Nigeria."

INVITATION TO PRAY FOR PEACE FROM NOOR CENTRE

Dear Peter,

I have sent this out on the NIG list but wanted to reach you personally as well, as I would really love to have you do a prayer, if you're able to attend. This was planned on a spontaneous impulse yesterday after hearing the desperately sad report about Boko Haram's latest mass obscenity.  What succour can we look to but prayer.

We have planned  to host multi-faith prayers for peace on Wednesday  January 21, at 7.30pm, at Noor Cultural Centre.   Our prayers are the least - and yet perhaps the best - we can offer at this troubled time of so much global suffering, human and non-human, caused by human behaviours of violence and environmental depredation.  The invitation to participate is being extended to all faith congregations.

Date: Wednesday January 21
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Auditorium, Noor Cultural Centre
Admission: Free

PEACE ON EARTH

Tonight at 11 the great Canadian actor, R. H. Thomson will be with us and will read some of the letters that came home from soldiers serving on the front lines on the first Christmas of the First World War.  He will read too some of the scriptures they read and we will sing or hear some of the same carols of Christmas that warmed their souls and raised their hopes for peace so completely that the dividing wall of No Man's Land was broken down at Christmas 1914 and the lion and lamb lay down together.   

It is my prayer that the centennial of that great Christmas Truce will serve to remind us all that there is no barrier which Christ's coming into this world cannot overcome and through the wonder of not only his birth, but also of his death and resurrection, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.    

One of the letters from which R.H. Thomson will read was written by a young man from Brantford who was in a barnyard that had been bombed and was smouldering and everything he touched was mud and the odour of the barnyard dirt was almost as unbearable as the war itself.  The young Canadian asked his comrade for the time and was told it was five after twelve.  "Merry Christmas!" he said.  "The same to you," came the reply, "But never in a place like this again."  It was then he noticed how still and quiet was the night.  Not a shot was fired that night and on Christmas it was as if the war had ended.    

The first Christmas was also marred by violence and visited by some of those same barnyard odours.  While the soldier rightfully hoped that he would never know another Christmas to be marred by war, it is into a world that stinks of conflict and hatred that Christ was born and into which he continues to come. 

There are always folk far from home at Christmas who hope to never have to go through a Christmas like this one again, but in the stillness and aloneness of the night, Christ comes to beckon us to higher things of peace and joy, of forgiveness and love.  When there was no room in the inn, Christ was born into No Man's Land and again and again ventured into territory that few others would dare venture into in the hope that all that divides the human family from God could be overcome.  It was for this he was born and for this he lived and died and was raised again.   May this be our peace this Christmas and forevermore.   

Merry Christmas!  

Peace,

Peter 

p.s. a British television ad gives a lovely glimpse back at the Christmas Truce of 1914

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM

The music that plays in the background as soldiers from both sides engage in a soccer match is the lovely old hymn, 

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.


Today is Christmas Eve and the unseasonably warm temperatures and light rain throughout the day in Toronto will not produce the postcard perfect white Christmas many long for.  Nor will it be ideal for the pilgrimage through our park to visit the stations of the Nativity, though I doubt the camel, sheep and other animals trucked in for the evening will complain about a bit of rain on Christmas Eve.    

I am secretly pleased with the weather because it will not coat us in layer after layer of ice which left vast areas of our city without power and heat in the frigid days and nights of Christmas 2013.  Our street was so cold and dark a year ago that many of our neighbours told me they chose not to celebrate Christmas.  You certainly couldn't thaw a turkey at room temperature a year ago and it is hard to wrap presents with gloves on.  Most of the churches in the heart of the city were not even able to open on Christmas Eve 2013.  

So, I say, let it stay warm and rain lightly all day long if that is what it wants to do.  You may not have to bundle up for Bethlehem on Yonge after all.  A golf umbrella and rubber boots will probably do the trick tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised if some bold soul even shows up in Bermuda shorts this Christmas. 

Many of the hymn writers and poets suggest there was snow on snow on snow so long ago at Christmas, but something tells me it was likely foggy and damp and dark in Bethlehem, just as it is today in Toronto.  Bad weather has never scared me away from Christmas.  I am warmed by the thought that God gave no thought to the weather when his Son was born in the bleak midwinter.  It is a reminder that whatever we are going through in life, God is with us - Emmanuel.   How fitting that on the birthday of the Sun or Righteousness the forecast is saying the fog of Christmas Eve will soon be burned away and we will be free to walk without fear of falling.  

Merry Christmas!

Peter

Music at Christmas

Long before there were Christmas parties, turkey dinners, Christmas trees and lights, prior to services at midnight by glow of candlelight there was Christmas music.  It goes back to the Angelic choir on the very night of Christ's birth stirring the hearts of Bethlehem shepherds with a song that told them of the birth of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.  The song was life and put a spring in their step as the shepherds set off to see the One whose birth had been made known to them.   

Life at Yorkminster Park is blessed with music and song as some of the finest choirs in the country rehearse here in the evenings and our noonday recitals feature brilliant upcoming instrumentalists.  But at Christmas it is as if the angels have returned. 

Sometimes the music is offered as part of a service set in the context of prayer and worship like the beautiful Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols our choir will offer on December 21st at 4:30 p.m., a service that goes back almost one hundred years to the first Christmas after the end of World War One. 

This Sunday at 4:30 p.m. it will be, Carols by Candlelight, a choral service held here since the Depression of the 1930's when a remarkable gift of candlesticks was made to the church to encourage us to look to Jesus as the light in the midst of a dark time.  The choral music and the carol singing at both of these services rank as high points in our church year. 

On other occasions the music is offered in the form of a concert like our City Carol Sing of last Saturday which will be broadcast in an edited form on CITY TV at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but can be seen on our website in its entirety at http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/index.php?id=316  Watch it and be thrilled with more than just the music and singing.  

We have the privilege of hosting three other remarkable Christmas concerts offered by the great choirs of our city.  On December 10, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will be presenting their stirring Festival of Choirs with the National Staff Band of the Salvation Army.  There are still tickets available at http://www.tmchoir.org/festival-of-carols/  but if you are out of town or simply unable to come, a generous donor has made it possible for to have the joy of watching this great concert live online Wedensday, December 10 at 7:30 p.m. EST http://new.livestream.com/accounts/7071993/FestivalofCarols

On Saturday, December 13 at 7:30 p.m., the Amadeus Choir will be here for their annual Christmas concert 'Sure on this Shining Night.'  Tickets are still available at http://www.amadeuschoir.com/   

Next Tuesday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m., I will have the great privilege of offering the narration with the Orpheus Choir and Hannaford Street Silver Band as they offer Welcome Christmas 2.  Tickets are still available at   http://www.orpheuschoirtoronto.com/2014/08/28/welcome-christmas-ii/

With all the services, concerts and rehearsals there are times when one might shut their eyes and hear the echoes of angels.  I pray the music and services of Christmas will warm our hearts, put a spring in our step and draw us ever closer to Christ. 

Have a truly Merry Christmas! 

Peter

A Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.  Psalm 122:6

I love Jerusalem, but what a week it has been in the 'City of Shalom.'  I can envision Jesus weeping over the city all over again.  Four rabbis and a police officer were killed as they prayed in a synagogue by two young Palestinian zealots crying out, "God is great!" 

I happen to agree that God is great, but their despicable murderous act completely negates their testimony.  They obviously knew nothing of the God who weeps over the brokenness of our world, nor that true greatness lies in the service of others and the love of one's neighbour and even one's enemies. 

While the story in the Jerusalem synagogue went viral, and I am glad it did, many similar brutalities against Christians in Iraq and Syria have gone unreported.  Either the media simply has no access to the horror, or it assumes falsely that Christians in the middle-east are part of western colonialism and are therefore not relevant.  In fact the Christians of Iraq and Syria and so many middle-eastern countries are members of ancient Christian communities that have been peacefully following Christ since the first century, but all of that now seems forever changed by forces of evil.  

Earlier today in an article in The New Yorker, Bernard Avishai quoted his wife, Sidra, an Israeli, as saying regarding the Palestinian attacks, "I know why they do it, and I know why we do it, and I don't know what to do."  http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/escalation-jerusalem

There has been endless analysis of all sides of the problems in the middle-east and there is so much history it seems almost impossible to unravel it all, but there is something we can and must all do.  The Psalmist said it best, "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

As Christians we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem but also pray and work for peace throughout the middle-east. In these days we need to especially pray and advocate for our Christian brothers and sisters as few others seem willing to take on their cause.   Yet as we do we will discover there are many Jews and Muslims praying and working with us for the peace of Jerusalem and the middle-east. 

I was encouraged this week by the voice of an Imam who became the first Muslim to ever address the General Synod of the Church of England on Tuesday of this week.  In his speech he condemned violence and expressed a strong commitment to work for peace.  He said, "We must be convinced the issue is not too much religion, but too little good religion."  

Fuad Nahdi also issued a warning to Muslims from Mohammad's own words, "Beware  whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Muhammad) will complain against the person on the day of judgment."   http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/nov/18/christians-muslims-co-existed-general-synod-religions-allies

Karen Armstrong has also now lent her remarkable voice to the debate on religion and violence.  In an interview this morning on Canada AM she was asked if the removal of violence wouldn't make the world a more peaceful place.  She responded by pin-pointing the escalation of violence in the west to the time when religion was removed from the centre of the state.  "Let's not make the mistake of thinking religion is a primary cause of violence in our world."  

http://canadaam.ctvnews.ca/video  clipId=488828&playlistId=1.2111012&binId=1.815908&playlistPageNum=1&binPageNum=1

We need to hear these voices this week, because when there has been an attack on a sacred place of worship by zealots giving God the glory, we can't help but wonder about religion ourselves.  But the other voice that needs to be raised is the voice of prayer.  

A Prayer for Jerusalem  

Gracious and merciful God we give you thanks for the beauty and wonder of this world and for sacred places where through the ages women and men have been drawn close to you.  We thank you for Jerusalem where Jesus was drawn to the Temple from the time of his birth until the the time of his death and where he taught and healed and proclaimed the good news of your Kingdom.  We thank you too for communities throughout the middle-east where the good news has been embraced and upheld from that day until now.  May a new day of peace dawn upon the middle-east even as the sun rises tomorrow.   

Yet O God if Jesus wept over the city that had destroyed the prophets before him you must surely be weeping over the violence in those same streets in this day.  You must weep too over the suffering and persecution of so many who call you Father and embrace Jesus as your Son.  O God may the gospel take root in this world in new ways that people might not fear religion, but fear life without your mercy and grace.  Give us ears to hear  afresh the command of Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute, and so we pray for this world and even for those who persecute and hate in your name.  We pray especially for those who cling to their faith in the One who died for them even when it means dying for him.  O God grant us the grace to live for Christ and to be instruments of his peace from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

A Prayer for Buffalo

The weather turned cold this week in Toronto.  Seven days back warm fall breezes had the streets crowded with pedestrians clad even in shorts and t-shirts, but with the snowfall Monday and the cold wind of yesterday most of us have been searching for the gloves and scarves we squirreled away somewhere back in the spring.

But let's not complain.  At least this isn't Buffalo.  That poor city at the other end of the QEW has been dumped on with the storm of a century.  Here we are not an hour and half's drive away with an inch while some parts of that city have upwards of six feet with another meter of snow apparently taking aim at them for later tonight. 

Torontonians love heading down to Buffalo to pick up bargains at the mall or catch a cheap flight to a warmer clime or even to explore some of the remarkable old architecture from a time when Buffalo flourished as the 'Queen City of the Great Lakes,' but this is a day to simiply pray for our neighbours across the lake.  Some were trapped in their vehicles for over thirty hours and others may still be. There must be some in need of medical attention who cannot get out their front door and medical staff also prevented by the weather from getting to the hospital to give attention where it is needed. 

Let's not just be thankful we live on the other side of the lake.   Let's say a prayer for Buffalo. 

Gracious God we thank you for the sun that shines and the rain and snow that nourish and even protect the earth.   We thank you for warm days that invite our participation in your creation and even for the cold that cleanses the earth.  We thank you too for the beauty and wonder of your world and for the senses of sight and hearing of touch and taste that enhance our joy season by season.   

Forgive us for complaining when it is raining and for seeing only the inconvenience while blind to the need of those caught in the eye of a storm. And so we pray for our neighbours in Buffalo and surrounding areas overwhelmed in these hours and days by a winter storm.  Bring strength to those already weary in  caring and serving along the highways and byways. Bring relief to those trapped and disconnected and unable to fend on their own.  And as those bombarded only yesterday brace themselves for yet another storm, may they know the shelter and safety of your care, through Christ our Lord, Amen. 

Grace and Peace,

Peter

A Prayer for Marcus

Since Wednesday morning's shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo on duty at the National War Memorial and the subsequent storming of the Canadian Parliament Buildings, I have not been able to find the right words.  There are obvious words like maddening and crazy and tragic, but I am still looking for a better word and don't want to cheapen words like love and forgiveness.  

I found words that seemed to work when it was New York and then Boston, but this is different.  It is like trying to speak at your parent's funeral.  Many cannot.  The parliament is in many like a parent.  It is the seat of government and the place we turn for leadership. 

So I apologize for my silence, but words have failed me.  The truth is on Wednesday we were bombarded with words and clung to them only to learn that many of the things said in the midst of the storm turned out to be less than true.  And so, one waits for the storm to subside praying that indeed it will.  After all, Wednesday's attack in Ottawa was the second fatal attack on a Canadian forces soldier this week.  If nothing else we must pray this is the end. 

As I continued to wrestle to find the right words, I received an email from my youngest brother, Rob, who had been away for the last two days on business.  He returned this morning only to discover one of his key employees, the man in the office next to his own, is a cousin of Nathan Cirillo.   My brother filled me in on a number of details concerning the family and the young son of the single father, and then my brother asked one simple thing of his brother the minister.  Please pray.  Even when we don't know what to say, we can  pray.  The Scripture assures us that even when our prayer is but a groan, God gets it. 

And so I offer the following prayer to God and offer it to you in the event it might guide you in your own prayers. 

Gracious God, you are the Source of life and all that is good and so we turn to you in this season when we are overwhelmed with news that is bad beyond words.  Yet we come to you, O God, believing that no cacophony of evil is beyond the enlightenment of your Word, nor any darkness beyond the reach of your light.  By your Word which brings life, lighten the load of Nathan Cirillo's family who shoulder the grief of our nation - and enlighten the way forward for Nathan's son, Marcus.  Watch with those who watch over him and watch too with those who stand guard over the freedoms we so cherish.  We pray too O God for the 'radicalized' among us.  Heal the wounds that plague their souls and open their eyes and hearts to that new day when the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and all people will live and worship freely in peace each one according to their conscience.   Protect O God, the institutions which anchor our democracy and strengthen too the resolve of all people to be not afraid, but with faith, hope and love to live for nothing less than that day when disease and hatred and warfare will cease and death itself shall be forever silenced, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.    

Grace and Peace,

Peter

My wife and I often play 'name that composer' when driving in the car with the radio on.  For someone not formally trained in music, I do okay.  One day while driving on my own I heard a piece of beautiful music distinctly different, so I pulled over, in part so I could make note of the composer, but also because the music was moving me so deeply I wanted to give my undivided attention.  And as busy as I was, I just didn't want the music to end.  

Looking back I am pretty sure this was the piece   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y9yM53TowA 

The composer turned out to be Morten Lauridsen and from that day, I have often turned to his music when I need a touch of peace or a reminder of the transcendent.  One day I phoned a colleague and discovered he was in the midst of preparing a sermon.  I could hear music in the background and I asked, "Is that Lauridsen I hear?"  He said, "Yes, Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna."  

Paul Salamunovich, Music Director Emeritus of the Los Angeles Master Chorale became famous for his recording of the Lux Aeterna and of it he says, "Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God and I feel that this music of Lauridsen is the perfect prayer."  People around the world speak of a connection they hear in his music and often the connection is with God.  

Morten Lauridsen composes from tiny Waldron Island in the Pacific North-West, "looking across the bay," he says, "to Canada."  Now Morten Lauridsen is coming to Canada.  He will be with us at Yorkminster Park on Saturday, October 25 for the Toronto debut of the recent film about his life and music at 3:30, (shown across the street at CCDP), followed by a Gala Concert at 7:30 at YP featuring the choirs of Yorkminster Park, the Orpheus Choir, The U of T MacMillan Singers, the Exultate Singers, and the Cawthra Park School Choir, along with the Talisker Players orchestra.   

Tickets can be purchased on line or on Sunday at church or through the office.  I wish I could say it is free, but I can assure you no one is getting rich.  We are simply aiming to cover all costs and to offer an evening of music that will truly lift our spirits.  I hope you can come, because I can assure you, it will be beautiful and inspiring and worth far more than the cost of admission.  And who knows, maybe one day it will help you win a game of 'name that composer.'   

For more information go to  http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/page/70/morten-lauridsen-event/ 

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Wednesday evening prior to the magnificent choral concert at the church, the Ukrainian Catholic pastor from Brampton, Father Roman Galadza, turned to me and said, "How wonderful it is that in a world gone mad for war,  we can be here tonight taking in this offering of music to the glory of God."  

He was absolutely right and as the Ukrainian choir sang one piece after another it felt all the more wonderful and true.  Thanksgiving is a like a great piece of music.  It too lifts our spirits as we reflect on the goodness all about us and say, 'Thank you.'  

It is no wonder the psalmist begins with the words, "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord and to sing his praise throughout the land,"  (Psalm 92).  God has blessed us in this land with the abundance of harvest not to mention freedom and peace and family and those things we take so for granted, health and strength.   It is good to give thanks! 

The choir members had come from a land marked by warfare and will soon be returning to the same, yet even while here tragedy struck.  Two of the choir members had been left behind in a Calgary hospital after suffering a terrible accident.  Life's been no less tragic for Father Galadza whose magnificent church burned to the ground just prior to Easter.  

But as the conductor reminded us while introducing one of the pieces, "Hallelujah is intended not only for the good times, but also for times of challenge and confusion."  He spoke of the accident and the choir's desire to carry on singing the hallelujahs because their hope is in Jesus Christ who has won the victory.  

There are always mysteries and things we can't get to the bottom of, but we can always rise above them like an hallelujah at Easter.   We do so in part by giving our burdens to God in faith, but also by being a thankful people.  

We have much to be thankful for in the life of our church family.  It is true that offerings are down slightly, but I only mention it because I know your generous spirits.  Just as we looked forward to the music of Wednesday, I look forward to being with you this Sunday as we raise our voices in Thanksgiving!  Thanks be to God!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace and Peace,

Peter  


On Sunday afternoon a report on CBC Radio One aired about some of the Christians in Iraq taking up arms and forming a militia to face ISIS, (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  It wasn't terribly surprising to hear as they have suffered incredible persecution since the fall of Sadam Hussein which have only intensified with the rise of ISIS.  Christians have been executed and churches have been bombed in some cases and taken over by ISIS in other cases.  The Christians were initially given the opportunity to pay a hefty tax to remain in the villages and homes, but the option was removed and the only choice left was to convert or flee for their lives.  

Some estimate the Christian population of Iraq to have been well in excess of one million not so long ago, but few estimate there are more than 200,000 left in the land and most of those have fled to Kurdish territory within Iraq.   Both the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city with a historic concentration of Christians have been taken over by ISiS and Christian symbolism removed.

A week ago the New York Times ran a feature article on the prevailing silence about the Christians suffering in Iraq.  The writer gave two reasons for the silence.  The press is said to be silent because they operate under the assumption that Christians in Iraq are simply a remnant of white European colonialism, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Most of the Christians in Iraq are part of the ancient Chaldean Church which traces its roots directly back to the Apostle Thomas in the first century.  The church was in Iraq for four centuries before the religion of Islam was founded.  

The Times also suggested that just as the press is silent, so too evangelical Christians who are often enthusiastic sympathizers with the State of Israel understand neither the orthodox traditions of the Arab church, nor their lack of warmth towards Israel and have therefore been slow to rally behind the cause of the Christians persecuted in Iraq.  

The Baptist World Alliance is actively engaged in supporting the Christians who have been displaced from Iraq.  To read more go to   

http://www.bwanet.org/news/news-releases/417-bwa-sends-aid-to-displaced-iraqi-christians

In recent months Pope Francis has also been calling the church to prayer for the end of persecution in Iraq and now for peace.  He has said that he is in constant prayer for the persecuted Christians of Iraq.   

In the midst of all of this along with wars and tensions in Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, South Sudan, Syria, Cardinal Collins recently called for religions leaders in the city to join him to pray for the peace of the world at St. Paul's Basilica at Queen St. E. and Power St.   I was honoured to be invited and to hear various leaders offer readings and prayers from their own traditions.  Many of the lay people were wearing buttons bearing a written message.  The likes of this button I have never seen in my life.  Even an Islamic Imam who had joined us to pray wore the button which said, "Stop Killing Christians!"

The service included a reading from a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Father Walter Makarenko whom I had first met on a Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces many years ago. A Bishop from the Syriac Catholic church also participated as did a number of senior Protestant clergy from the city.  Two Rabbis offered readings along with clerics of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.  As we gathered beforehand there was a very sombre mood some sensing in the tensions of the world a repeat of one hundred years ago when the First World War broke out.  All were anxious to pray.   

The most moving moment in the service came when the Rev. Niaz Toma, Pastor of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in Hamilton and St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Church in Oakville read from Romans 8.  The Chaldean Christian Church of Iraq is one of the oldest in the world and now seems to face extinction if not annihilation at the hands of ISIS and Father Toma was reading from Romans 8.  The words had never sounded more powerful than they did that day when a priest whose own people were in the midst of horrendous persecution read them.   

Romans 8: 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday's report on the CBC ended by saying, "All these Iraqi Christians have left is their faith."  If Father Toma's reading was any indication of the level of their faith, at two thousand years they have only just begun.  

The prayers of Cardinal Collins that day also bear repeating,

With you is life, truth and peace, O God, which you have placed in the heart of every human being.  Forgive the irreverence done towards these gifts, creating despair and discord in so many lives.  We come together to restore our attention to the common bonds of our humanity and to pray.  Attune our ears and hearts once again to your gifts of life, truth and peace.  

O God of life, truth and peace, hear our prayer for all those who are suffering the scourge of war, violence and persecution.  Restore them to fullness of life.  Let truth prevail over injustice, and may a profound and abiding peace spread throughout the world.  For this we pay.  

Pray for Peace,

Peter

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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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