Situated on the side of Mount Al-Faf in North Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, St. Matthew’s Monastery is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq. Today, the beige stone structure looks down on the rolling hills of one of Iraq’s most active front lines against the Islamic State, less than four miles away.
Yousif Ibrahim is one of three monks who resides in the monastery. Its silence is peaceful, despite the fact that, outside of the ancient walls, the battle for Iraq is raging.
“We can see the battles and the air-strikes from here in front of us, especially at night. The sky lights up at night, but we of course are not scared. God protects us,” Ibrahim says.
The horizon is spotted with plumes of white and black smoke from US-led coalition air-strikes and heavy artillery fire. From this front line, ISIL territory stretches back to Mosul, the group’s largest Iraqi stronghold.
The proximity of the Islamic State to St. Matthew’s means the monastery is constantly at risk. The extremist group is known for destroying churches, museums and other culturally and historically significant sites.
St. Matthew’s is currently safe under Kurdish peshmerga military control. However, most of the residents from the villages below the monastery, fled the area last August, when the Islamic State advanced towards them. But the three monks at the monastery and their six students all resolved to stay.
According to Ibrahim, extremist groups have systematically targeted Christians over the past century, and the Islamic State is only a continuation of that long history. Despite remaining at the monastery, he fears that St. Matthew’s, and Christianity in Iraq, are on their last legs.
However, only if all of Iraq’s Christians leave the country will he consider fleeing the war-torn country himself. “The shepherd cannot leave his sheep,” he says.
- Pray for Ibrahim, his fellow monks and the students at the monastery. Pray for protection for them, and that their remaining in the area will be a witness to others of their faith in God.
- Pray for Iraqi Christians, as many flee to neighbouring countries and regions, that they will remain strong in their faith and trust in the God who loves them.
- Pray for the future of the Church in Iraq, that, despite fears to the contrary, it will grow and flourish through this time of persecution.
- Pray for peace in Iraq.
Psalm 12 vs 7: “You, O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation for ever.”
Source; http://www.usatoday.com/story, http://www.persecution.org