A letter from Nuhad Tomeh in Lebanon
March 23, 2008
Easter messages from our partners
Dear Sisters and Brothers in the risen Lord
“Christ is Risen”
“Indeed He did”
This is a very common Easter greetings here in the Middle East You greet people by saying, “Christ is risen.” They reply saying, “Indeed He did. Go tell the message.”
This year, Christians in the Middle East will celebrate Easter on the Western calendar and the Eastern calendar, March 23 and April 27, almost six weeks apart.
We believe this is a good sign, because we all need to be reassured for more than six weeks of the message of hope and resurrection. With war and conflicts in many countries in our region — Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Sudan — and with political instability in Lebanon and other countries, people need to be reassured that after all this killing and after the dark Friday, there is the bright morning of Easter Sunday.
After the killing last week of Paulos Faraj Rahho, archbishop of the Chaldean church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, many Christians are seeking safer places in neighboring countries. The killing has created fear and despair among Christian in other countries. Last week there was a big gathering in Lebanon for Christians from all traditions and churches under the title “Christian presence in Lebanon.”
Because of this situation I have asked our partners in the region to send a message to the churches and people in the West and around the world.
The Reverend Adeeb Awad of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon wrote:
Easter has, from the beginning, been the number one Christian festival in the Middle East; it still is. The church in the Middle East has always viewed itself as the church of the risen Lord. No other reality (in heaven, on earth, or under the earth) could we have sustained this church during its long perilous history; only the reality of the Resurrection could give hope and strength to go on. This is so true nowadays, as the powers of darkness (too often as sweet as an angel of light) lurk all around trying to make our entire endeavor in vain, fighting to cause the Church to stumble, fall, and lose hope.
As the church in the Middle East prepares to accompany its Lord along the Lonesome Valley, and meet Him on the morn of the First Day of the Week, we pray that the risen Christ becomes present in our midst in a way that retains the multidimensionality of his person and influence, as well as the multidimensionality of access to his person and influence ... to the powers of love, the powers of forgiveness, the powers of healing, the powers of special attention to children, to the weak, to the rejected, to the sick, and to all those who are suffering.
We beseech our sister churches around the world to join us in prayer, asking the Lord to strengthen and equip us for the ongoing struggle with the so-called principalities and powers: with political and religious powers, in our search for justice and truth; to deepen our faith in His call, to ever establish our hope in the way of His Son, the risen Lord, to refine our testimony as good stewards in the building of His kingdom.
Christ is risen!
Father Gaby Alfred Hashem, director of the Division on Faith and Unity of the Middle East Council of Churches, wrote:
Easter and resurrection in the Middle East
The resurrection and Easter holiday bear a special impression for us the Christians of the Middle East. We not only call to mind the secret of God’s sufferings, His death and His resurrection and participate in them in a spiritual way, as is the case for many churches and Christian communities in the world, but we live this secret in the depth of our being and in our bodies and souls. Every day we are crucified with the Christ — in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon — and every day we are driven like Him to suffering, vagrancy, oppression, martyrdom, and death in the hope we reach with Him the resurrection. Our true Easter will not be complete before the passing (pascha) of all the Middle East Region to the status of peace, stability, and avowal of the dignity of every human being and of his right to a happy life regardless of his religion, race, and class affiliation; and unless our religions realize the common living, cooperation, and brotherly attitudes through real and committed dialogue. We fully realize that the dangerous role of our churches and the importance of the Middle East Council of Churches are based on the witness to the resurrection and on the realization of its effects in our nations and societies for the happiness of man and the completeness of his humanity.
In this feast, and every day, we will continue to strive for the realization of this noble aim in service to every man, which is the aim of the reincarnation and sacrifice, and the extension of Easter and the resurrection. And until all this will be realized, our cry from the depth of our being is echoed in every place: Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen.
I have tried to get a message in writing from our churches in Iraq, but due to time and bad phone connections I was only able to get the following message, from Elder Shamel Sadek in Basra:
We are scared and fearful for our lives, but at the same time we remember the disciples when Jesus was arrested and crucified, we also remember the joy and hope they all had few days later. We are able to meet together from time to time, sometimes in the church, sometimes in our homes. Pray for us that the hope of the resurrection will lead us and be with us and that the joy will stay in our hearts as we go through this very fearful and difficult time.
May the risen Lord give you all the joy, hope and peace, which I am sure we all need, no matter where we are.
The 2008 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 326