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Iraqi Christian Relief Council is proud to partner with Philos Project in bringing the Fast of Nineveh to the Western church. 

Iraqi Christian Relief Council is sharing the voices of six believers taking part in the Fast of Nineveh, also known as Baoota d’ Ninevahey (Rogation of the Ninevites), February 6-9. Iraqi Christian Relief Council has chosen a theme for each day’s blog. Today’s theme is prayer

Discover the spiritual journey of these very different individuals fasting for the Assyrian people and victims of ISIS throughout Iraq and the Middle East.

Monday, February 6, Prayer

“Being raised in an Assyrian Christian family, the Fast of Nineveh was an obligation, almost like a pledge or promise to our ancestors.”-Savina Dawood

1. Savina Dawood

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 4.00.55 PMSavina Dawood is the co-founder of Etuti, a journalist, vice chairman at IYDU, part of the Executive Committee of ChaldoAssyrian Students & Youth Union and Assyrian Cultural Club, and GISHRU. She was born and raised in Erbil, Iraq and currently studies her Masters in Human Rights in Erlangen, Germany. Her favorite part of the Fast of Nineveh is when her family would gather around her father and he would recall the story of the prophet Jonah and the whale. 

Day 1: May God accept our fast, Amen.

The Fast of Nineveh is historical proof in the strength of prayers. For me, praying is that unique dimension where you invite God for a conversation, sometimes a debate, or a complaint, other times requesting guidance or forgiveness, and very few times just to present appreciation and gratitude.

During the Fast of Nineveh in 2015 I was angry at God. I did not commit that year to fast because of the persecution and inequalities my Ninevayeh (the people of Nineveh) were going through. But soon I made peace with God, I started noticing how much change we have brought to the internally displaced children and youth as a group of youth leaders today known as Etuti. In time, our educational and sports programs, the Little Smiles project, and many other organizations working together helped our people leave their tents, no child was left to sleep hungry, and we realized as a people that we were not alone.

My favorite prayers and readings of our holy book come from Psalms. Thus, I would like to conclude today’s post with Psalms (27:1). “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” May our Fast and Prayers be accepted, Amen.

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Saint Hormizd Monastery in Alqosh, Nineveh, Iraq taken in December 2016 by Savina Dawood

“The Fast of Nineveh is important because the Ninevites are our Assyrian ancestors. If it is something that my ancestor did, then I can do that too.”-Father Gewaris Sulaiman

2. Father Gewargis Sulaiman

Father

Father Gewargis

Father Gewargis Sulaiman is the parish priest of St. George Cathedral in Chicago. He was born and raised as an Assyrian Christian in Baghdad, Iraq and spent his youth in both Duhok and Baghdad. 

Day 1: To me, the Fast of Nineveh is all about repentance. The importance of prayer and repentance is that according to Jesus in the Gospel we are in a battle. It is all about how the devil is trying to deceive human beings to fall into his trap, which is like a spiritual war for mankind. We cannot win as humans, and we need a spiritual weapon and power to overcome this temptation. This can be found in both repentance and fasting as believers and as mankind for God and Christ. 

When we look at the Fast of Jonah, we can see that it is a fast for both the individual but also the larger community. We all have needs and shortcomings, and we all depend on God in certain ways. The best way is to show that we are humble to God is through fasting. We don’t need food or drink; only what God gives us and offers us.

The Fast of Nineveh came about as the Ninevites were able to change God’s decision to overturn their city through the power of fasting. Every believer who fasts in a way that Ninevites fasted can change God’s mind to be in their favor.

This Fast of Nineveh is important because the Ninevites are our Assyrian ancestors. Faith in our tradition is not just personal, it is passed on to me from my parents, and the Ninevites passed on their faith to all Assyrians. The Fast of the Nineveh was forgotten for many years, but revived in the 6th century AD by a bishop of Erbil when a disease hit the area. He asked everyone to fast and the disease was miraculously stopped. It is proof that God can protect us from disaster, be it spiritual or physical.

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Father Gewargis studies from an Assyrian Bible for the Fast of Nineveh

3. Caroline Farrow

Caroline Farrow is a Roman Catholic media commentator and weekly columnist for a Catholic newspaper. She is a mother to five children and she lives in Surrey, United Kingdom.

Caroline

Caroline Farrow

Day 1: It’s difficult to know what we can practically do to help our brothers and sisters who are facing such terrible persecution in the Middle East, which is why, when I heard about the tradition of the Fast of Nineveh on social media, I decided straight away that I needed to join in, as a tangible act of solidarity and spiritual work of mercy.

I have never attempted a fast from both food and water before, so I admit to being slightly daunted, but this a temporary privation and trivial in comparison to the dreadful suffering experienced by the Assyrian Christians at the hands of ISIS. Fasting is an incredibly powerful spiritual weapon and it is an honor to be able to join in prayer with my persecuted brothers and sisters in this way as well as raise awareness of their plight, which is all to often ignored or overlooked by the mainstream media.

In our busy self-obsessed lives, it is all to easy to forget the power of prayer, especially when we are undertaking the discipline of fasting. There is a temptation to concentrate purely on the physical, the mastery of appetite and neglect the spiritual. But we need to remember that prayer is a unique gift given to us by God which allows us to communicate directly with Him, whenever we want to. Who could ignore such an invitation?! 

When we combine prayer and fasting for purely unselfish reasons, it is a tremendously powerful spiritual weapon. God hears such petitions and works to bring to healing to communities, churches and nations. For those who are unable to participate in this year’s Nineveh fast, your prayers can still be effective. Please continue to pray not only for those Christians in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Jordan but also for the resolve of poor sinners like me, that we do not lessen in our resolve and that we may have the necessary conversion of heart to bring about a transformation by the Holy Spirit. 

As St John Paul II reminds us, “Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the most effective weapons against the forces of evil.” These words could not be more prescient when we consider the terrible fate of the Christians currently being persecuted by ISIS.

“5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:5-9

4. Ewelina U. Ochab

Ewelina

Ewelina U. Ochab is a Human Rights Advocate, Legal Researcher, and PhD Candidate, Roman-Catholic, living in the UK. She is fasting in solidarity with the persecuted Church in the Middle East.

Day 1: Fasting is not the goal in itself. However, through fasting, one can achieve the goal that is getting closer to God. Fasting requires sacrifice and discipline. It shows that it is the mind that rules the body, and not the other way around. The material is irrelevant. The desires can be suppressed. Of course, this realization does not make fasting any easier. Hence, praying is a crucial part of fasting.

Today, I fast in solidarity with the persecuted Church in the Middle East. I pray for all people of Nineveh Plains and beyond that they will be strong and do not lose hope, that they will be able to return to their homes once the area is fully liberated, that they will be able to rebuild their homes and lives, that they will be safe, and will be able to live out their faith without fear of persecution.

Photograph of a church in Qaramlish, Nineveh Plain, taken during Ewelina's last trip to Iraq in November 23, 2016

Photograph of a church in Qaramlish, Nineveh Plain, taken during Ewelina’s last trip to Iraq in November 23, 2016

The people of Nineveh Plains need our prayers. However, they need much more. They need our assistance to rebuild their homes and lives. They need our assistance with making the area safe to ensure that they can live out their faith. They need us to give them a voice and speak up and speak out on their behalf about what they have been through. They need our support to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. And lastly, they need our help to keep the promise of never again. Our support is crucial to ensure their future in the Nineveh Plains and beyond.

5. Katherine Hanna

Katherine Hanna is a wife to an Egyptian Christian and mother to three amazing children in Minnesota. She is a nurse by profession, artist at heart and follower of Jesus.

Katherine Hanna and her daughter

Katherine Hanna and her daughter

I am fasting to let our Christian brothers and sisters overseas know that they are not alone. We see you, we’ve heard your cry and we are praying for God to restore your homes and your lives. You’ve born great trials and stood for Christ amidst persecution the world has not seen since the birth of the church. Truly you teach us how to live for Jesus. 

Today, I started my first day of the Fast of Nineveh by reading the 4 chapters of Jonah to remind myself of the ministry God did through Jonah, despite him. I’ve focused today on the thought of accepting the mission or work God gives us, and the cost of turning our backs and trying to run from it.

Praise God our Lord is a God of second chances…

A snack to help Nerary get through day 1 of the Fast of Nineveh

A snack to help Nerary get through day 1 of the Fast of Nineveh

6. Nerary Yousif

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Nerary Yousif

Nerary Yousif is an Assyrian Christian activist who has worked for Assyrian communities in Chicago, D.C, and in Iraq. He works for the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, and currently lives in Chicago. His goal is to finish his studies in history and biblical archaeology.

Day 1: As a Bible believing Christian, I have come to realize that there is no book in antiquity that comes close to the power, magic and mystery behind the Bible’s historic, prophetic and archeological truths. The Bible is literally alive.

In the book of Jonah, we read a magnificent story of Jonah, who fought to defy God’s will in order to run away from the city of Nineveh. Historical records put Jonah around the mid to early 700s BC, which was the height of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians in Nineveh were wicked in God’s eyes, but through God’s mercy He was gracious enough to give Assyrians another chance to repent.

The first day of fasting is always the easiest because we fight off our temptations through prayer, just as the Ninevites did throughout the time that Jonah was warning the city. As for me personally, I pray for our people in Iraq and Syria. I pray God gives them the strength to continue to face this evil in our ancestral homelands.

I pray for President Trump, and pray that God will use him as a tool to disrupt the plans of the devil. This is nothing new for the Assyrian people. We have lived under the Islamic sword for over 1,000 years. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake…”, those are the words that keep the faith of the Assyrian people strong. God has been patience with us, we are obligated to be patient with him, after all, there would be no Assyrian nation if we had not repented at the preaching of Jonah. The day is near where God will avenge all those martyrs who called upon his name while being beheaded.

Reshare this blog on social media with the hashtag #FastOfNineveh. Donate to support persecuted Assyrians in Iraq and the Middle East at VictimsOfISIS.org. 

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