Sermons, Articles on Nineveh Lent
(Three Day Lent)
Destruction of Modern Day Nineveh, Iraq
ISIS Destroys Oldest Assyrian Monastery in Iraq - St. Elijah's Monastery
By Martha Mendoza, Maya Alleruzzo and Bram Janssen
St. Elijah's Monastery, one of the earliest Christian settlements, and the
oldest in Iraq, near Mosul, Dec. 10, 2009.
Satellite images have been used to
confirm that militants with the Islamic State group destroyed a
stone sanctuary (Eros Hoagland -- New York Times).
IRBIL, Iraq (AP) -- The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to a
field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State group's relentless
destruction of ancient cultural sites.
For 1,400 years the compound survived assaults by nature and man, standing as a
place of worship recently for U.S. troops. In earlier centuries, generations of
monks tucked candles in the niches and prayed in the cool chapel. The Greek
letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ's name, were
carved near the entrance.
Now satellite photos obtained exclusively by The Associated Press confirm the
worst fears of church authorities and preservationists -- St. Elijah's Monastery
of Mosul has been completely wiped out.
In his office in exile in Irbil, Iraq, the Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, 39, stared
quietly at before- and after-images of the monastery that once perched on a
hillside above his hometown of Mosul. Shaken, he flipped back to his own photos
"I can't describe my sadness," he said in Arabic. "Our Christian history in
Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from
Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."
The Islamic State group, which broke from al-Qaida and now controls large parts
of Iraq and Syria, has killed thousands of civilians and forced out hundreds of
thousands of Christians, threatening a religion that has endured in the region
for 2,000 years. Along the way, its fighters have destroyed buildings and ruined
historical and culturally significant structures they consider contrary to their
interpretation of Islam.
Those who knew the monastery wondered about its fate after the extremists
through in June 2014 and largely cut communications to the area.
Now, St. Elijah's has joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished
religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in
Syria and Iraq. The extremists have defaced or ruined ancient monuments in
Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra. Museums and libraries have been looted, books
burned, artwork crushed -- or trafficked.
U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq,
"A big part of tangible history has been destroyed," said Rev. Manuel Yousif
Boji. A Chaldean Catholic pastor in Southfield, Michigan, he remembers attending
Mass at St. Elijah's almost 60 years ago while a seminarian in Mosul.
"These persecutions have happened to our church more than once, but we believe
in the power of truth, the power of God," said Boji. He is part of the Detroit
area's Chaldean community, which became the largest outside Iraq after the
sectarian bloodshed that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003. Iraq's Christian
population has dropped from 1.3 million then to 300,000 now, church authorities
The destruction of the monastery is a blow for U.S. troops and advisers who
served in Iraq and had tried to protect and honor the site, a hopeful endeavor
in a violent place and time.
Suzanne Bott, who spent more than two years restoring St. Elijah's Monastery as
a U.S. State Department cultural adviser in Iraq, teared up when the AP showed
her the images.
"Oh no way. It's just razed completely," said Bott. "What we lose is a very
tangible reminder of the roots of a religion."
In this photo from Nov. 7, 2008, a U.S. Army chaplain leads soldiers on a tour
of St. Elijah's Monastery
on Forward Operating Base Marez on the outskirts of
The monastery was apparently destroyed by ISIS in 2014 (Maya Alleruzzo/AP).
Army reserve Col. Mary Prophit remembered a sunrise service in St. Elijah where,
as a Catholic lay minister, she served communion.
"I let that moment sink in, the candlelight, the first rays of sunshine. We were
worshipping in a place where people had been worshipping God for 1,400 years,"
said Prophit, who was deployed there in 2004 and again in 2009.
"I would imagine that many people are feeling like, 'What were the last 10 years
for if these guys can go in and destroy everything?'" said Prophit, a library
manager in Glenoma, Washington.
This month, at the request of AP, satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe tasked a
high resolution camera passing over the site to grab photos, and then pulled
earlier images of the same spot from their archive of pictures taken globally
every day. Imagery analyst Stephen Wood, CEO of Allsource Analysis, reviewed the
pictures for AP and identified the date of destruction between Aug. 27 and Sept.
28, 2014. Before it was razed, images show a partially restored,
27,000-square-foot religious building. Although the roof was largely missing, it
had 26 distinctive rooms including a sanctuary and chapel. One month later, "the
stone walls have been literally pulverized," said Wood.
Soldiers celebrate a Catholic Easter Mass at St. Elijah's Monastery on the
outskirts of Mosul, Iraq in 2010.
"Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those
stone walls into this field of gray-white dust. They destroyed it completely,"
he said. "There's nothing to rebuild."
The monastery, called Dair Mar Elia, is named for the Assyrian Christian monk --
St. Elijah -- who built it between 582 and 590 A.C. It was a holy site for Iraqi
Christians for centuries, part of the Mideast's Chaldean Catholic community.
In 1743, tragedy struck when as many as 150 monks who refused to convert to
Islam were massacred under orders of a Persian general, and the monastery was
damaged. For the next two centuries it remained a place of pilgrimage, even
after it was incorporated into an Iraqi military training base and later a U.S.
Suzanne Bott leads a tour at St. Elijah's monastery in 2009.
Bott spent more
than two years surveying and restoring the site
as a U.S. State Department
cultural adviser in Iraq.
Then in 2003 St. Elijah's shuddered again -- this time a wall was smashed by a
tank turret blown off in battle. Iraqi troops had already moved in, dumping
garbage in the ancient cistern. The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division took
control, with troops painting over ancient murals and scrawling their division's
"Screaming Eagle," along with "Chad wuz here" and "I love Debbie," on the walls.
A U.S. military chaplain, recognizing St. Elijah's significance, kicked the
troops out and the Army's subsequent preservation initiative became a pet
project for a series of chaplains who toured thousands of soldiers through the
"It was a sacred place. We literally bent down physically to enter, an
acquiescence to the reality that there was something greater going on inside,"
remembered military chaplain Jeffrey Whorton. A Catholic priest who now works at
Ft. Bragg, he had to collect himself after viewing the damage. "I don't know why
this is affecting me so much," he said.
The U.S. military's efforts drew attention from international media outlets
including the AP in 2008. Today those chronicles, from YouTube videos captured
on the cell phones of visiting soldiers to AP's own high resolution, detailed
photographs, take on new importance as archives of what was lost.
One piece published in Smithsonian Magazine was written by American journalist
James Foley, six years before he was killed by Islamic State militants.
St. Elijah's was being saved, Foley wrote in 2008, "for future generations of
Iraqis who will hopefully soon have the security to appreciate it."
© 2016, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.
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