by The Revd Canon Dr. Robin Gibbons, Alexander Schmemann Professor of Eastern Christianity (Graduate Theological Foundation) and Director of Studies for Theology and Religion (Oxford University Department for Continuing Education)
(This post originally appeared on Independent Catholic News. Our thanks to ICN for permission to cross-post here.)
Where are the voices of the international community and our Church leaders about the plight of our brothers and sisters in faith and also others of faith and good will in Iraq? The reporting of what is going on is sporadic and never makes any front page. The silence of the world and let it be said, of many Church leaders, is almost deafening except for the few. The situation there in one of horror and as local Bishops and other leaders have said, this violence, and it is violence of a horrendous kind will, unless it is stopped, spread throughout the whole Middle East.
This coming week the holy fast of Ramadan is ending for the Muslim community. In Syria and other places of the Middle East our Patriarchs, Bishops and Religious Leaders will give the Islamic community greetings for the feast of Eid.
For Eastern Christians it will soon be the fast before the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Assumption in the western tradition). As a community both East and West we have the ancient tradition of fasting of Wednesdays and Fridays as well as in Great Lent and before we receive the Divine Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion.
Fasting for the Eastern Christian is not simply abstinence but a spiritual discipline linked to prayer and works of mercy. By fasting we concentrate on what is necessary and as ancient saints taught we begin to respect the gifts of the world and of animal life. But fasting is also a powerful witness, as our Muslim communities show us each Ramadan and Christians do when they keep Lent properly. Amongst other things It brings us together, becomes a prayer of intercession and petition to the Most High God for mercy , compassion and the gift of conversion of heart.
We need to petition and ask our Archbishops, Bishops, Moderators, Clergy, lay leaders in pastoral work and all others of faith and goodwill to come together and call for a day of voluntary prayers and a fasting shared by all Christians and others of good will in the UK. This will be a huge gift of supporting love for those who look to us, their sisters and brothers for help. In them Christ is calling us to bear witness and love for his body present in them.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics in Britain. At the GTF he is also Fellow and Dean of Studies of Foundation House/Oxford. He serves as Pastoral Director of the Oxford Theology Summer School and also contributes to Independent Catholic News.