In Iraq, Christians celebrate the ‘Day of the Holy Cross’ on 14 September, drawing on the meaning and symbolism of the cross – a symbol which today is so prevalent in our homes and churches. Christians in Qaraqosh talk about what the cross means to them.
What does the cross mean to you?
In Iraq, this is a question Christians ponder every year on the Day of the Cross. For centuries, Christians here and elsewhere in the Middle East have celebrated their faith by putting illuminated crosses on top of their houses.
Open Doors local partners asked several believers in the city of Qaraqosh why the cross is so important for them.
Father Ammar stands in the ruins of Al-Tahira church shortly after Qaraqosh was liberated in 2016
Father Ammar (pictured above) leads Al-Tahira church. He shows a picture of a cross knocked off the church by so-called Islamic State (IS), and then shows us the restored cross. “When IS took all of the crosses off the churches in 2014, we were reminded once more how important this symbol is for us. The church that we are in now was a shooting gallery for IS. The cross on the dome was restored soon after our return in 2017, but we have just recently finished the reconstruction of the church.
Today, the cross has been restored to Father Ammar's church!
“We have been celebrating the Day of the Cross for centuries and it is very important for us. The cross reminds us of the victory of Jesus over death and pain. Yes, we face many troubles, but we believe one day we will get rid of this pain and be with Jesus.”
For 55-year-old Essam and his family, placing the cross on top of their home is a joyful activity. His wife and son help him to attach the cross on the roof (pictured below), while his father watches the proceedings from the street below.
“My hope is that the cross of our Lord will bring peace to our land, so that we can stay to share the word of Jesus,” Essam shares.
Not far from Essam, Salah and his son are also busy placing their cross on the roof. He made the wooden cross, decorated with lights, by himself.
From his rooftop, Salah looks out over the neighbourhood. Some houses have a cross; others don’t. “After ISIS, many friends and family left the country; their houses are empty. It makes me sad to see that,” he says.
“Still, the cross for me is a sign of victory, victory over oppression.”
In the house of Steven and his wife Hiba, their children are lighting candles – an additional sign of hope to the cross already shining brightly from the top of their house.
Steven reads from the Bible: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
“As Iraqi Christians, we have to stay here...We need the Christians around the world to stand with us and support us. We are the indigenous people of this land.”
When the sun sets, dozens of crosses light up the Qaraqosh skyline. Together they form a symphony of light, a choir of reminders that even in times of persecution and a worldwide pandemic, one thing is sure: the cross wins, always!
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