The bombing of a Christian bookshop in northern Iraq was one of my first reporting assignments in the Middle East. It was about 1999, and it turned out that Catholic-affiliated groups had carried out the bombing of the store, which was owned by an evangelical Presbyterian pastor.
It’s worth remembering that in the not-too-distant past animosities among “old” church Christians and modern “born again” evangelicals, their numbers growing, ran high. It took a high-level meeting with the Vatican and mediation from U.S.-based aid groups (at that time, northern Iraq was under a U.S.-led no-fly zone following the first Gulf War) to help resolve an escalating resentment.
Christians old and new in Iraq and Syria—now alike under siege—have in crisis resolved their differences and sought reconciliation over the last decade. Baptist church leaders in Syria have for years been working with their Armenian and Orthodox counterparts to serve the Iraqi refugee community (numbering in the millions). Monasteries have banded together with Western-style Christian aid groups to assist displaced families with shelter and food. And where there is a vast theological divide in the United States between “mainline” churches and evangelicals, in the Middle East ancient churches—especially those that have suffered under Islam and paid a price for their faith—more often than not adhere to the ancient creeds and orthodox beliefs.
It’s in that spirit that I want to join in supporting this weekend the call of Pope Francis and leaders in the Orthodox Church to fast and pray for Christians in the Middle East. The pope on Thursday called for a day of fasting and prayer today. On Sunday churches around the world will incorporate special prayers for the region into their liturgies. Many will include this prayer from the Orthodox compline, sent to me by a WORLD reader, for the region’s Christians caught in war and targeted violence in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq:
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,
Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies,
And by Thy Cross protect Thy community.