By Rev Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest in Iraq and the chief executive of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East (THE TIMES, 15/04/06):
MANY have said that my parish of Baghdad is the most dangerous in the world. I get there by military aircraft and helicopter. Since last Easter all of my lay leaders have been killed, a suicide bomber turned up in church, people have been killed at our church entrance, we have endured car bombs and been attacked and our church has been surrounded by concrete barricades. I will not even be allowed to take the services there this Easter, I will officiate instead in the Shia Muslim Prime Minister’s lecture theatre. Here is inter-religious relations at the cutting edge.
Yet there will be much rejoicing this Easter among Christians in Baghdad. They have not only one of the fastest-growing churches in the Anglican Communion but also a growing faith. Their resurrected Jesus is growing brighter as their surroundings become darker. For them, faith is all they have left, as everything else has disappeared.
I no longer consider this the most dangerous parish in the world. That portfolio probably belongs somewhere in British suburbia. Everything may be safe; there may be no risk of terrorist bombs or attacks on your church leaders. Yet, this Easter faith may also be bland and safe.
The first Easter did not take place in such environs. Jesus was taken, persecuted and slaughtered by the authorities. Yet the Easter story is one of triumph over death and destruction. On Easter Day we celebrate the destruction of death, as Jesus breaks its chains and shows us new life and new hope. This Easter in Baghdad we will celebrate the hope of this season that one day things will change because of their Easter experience.
The Anglican Church has faced many questions. Will the church divide or split? Is there really hope that the Church will grow? What will happen about the issue of homosexuality? In Baghdad these questions are irrelevant. My congregation will, too, have questions: Will their children return from school? Will there be food on the table tonight? Who will be the next to be killed or kidnapped? For the people in Baghdad there will be no questions about God, or faith or even the Church. The one thing that never changes will be their faith in the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth.
Here at 6am my other congregation will meet on the lawn of Saddam’s former palace in the international zone — or Green Zone — in Baghdad. They will put down their guns and body armour and worship a living God. They are not Iraqis but mainly American and British diplomats and soldiers. They also have questions, but the questions of the past now seem irrelevant, too. Their question is simple: will they survive today? In this environment Easter becomes real. It is not about rabbits, chicks and chocolate eggs; it is about a faith in a living God. For those of us in Baghdad, Easter is a time of rejoicing in the words of a Creed that many say every Sunday.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered death and was buried. On the third day He rose again in accordance with the scriptures, He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right of the Father.
Those of us in Iraq — whether Iraqi or Coalition members — are reliant on the grace of God and his resurrection power. Some may criticise us for bringing religion into a desperate situation but here on the ground there is no other choice or scenario. Our hope has become theological more than political. When we say the words of the Creed each Sunday and when at the Eucharist we say our acclamation of faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again, we mean it. Here in Baghdad this Easter our faith will be our hope, our certainty and our future.
In the midst of darkness Jesus is our light and when we have lost everything we realise that the resurrected Jesus is, indeed, everything.