(To go along with me on a video tour of the oldest monastery in Iraq before it was destroyed by ISIS, scroll down the page.)
I don’t know if I could have even defined the word “monastery” back in 2007 when I stepped into the ruins of Dair Mar Elia (Saint Elijah’s Monastery) near Mosul, Iraq. Mosul is the modern-day name for the ancient city of Ninevah, a city that had Jonah so scared, he got himself swallowed by a whale trying to get away from it; the city has had a lot of other folks scared in the past decade. Founded around the year 582 A.D., Saint Elijah’s is (was) the oldest monastery in Iraq.
Until just a few minutes ago, I couldn’t have told you the name of the monastery I had visited all those years ago. As I started watching old video footage of an Army chaplain giving us a tour of its crumbled walls, I decided to search for “monastery in Mosul Iraq” to see if I could determine its name.
The only result that came back was a New York Times article talking about Iraq’s oldest monastery being destroyed by ISIS in 2014. As I stared at the photo on the news website, I thought “that looks familiar.” I went back to the video of my visit to the monastery in 2007 and began rewinding, playing, pause, rewind, play, pause.
Turns out, I was privileged to visit the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq in November 2007, just before ISIS leveled it to the ground sometime between August and September of 2014. My shocking news for the day!
It’s said that the Christian population of Iraq has fallen from 1.3 million at the beginning of the war, to around 300,000 today. Most of them have moved away from the land their Christian ancestors have occupied continuously for 2000 years, fearing for their lives. Some of them have even been crucified, following literally the Lord’s teaching to “take up your cross and follow me”; but just as Jesus was raised on the 3rd day, they await a glorious resurrection to life everlasting.
~582 A.D. – Dair Mar Elia (Saint Elijah’s Monastery) constructed in Mosul, Iraq (Ninevah of Jonah fame).
1743 A.D. – 150 monks refuse to convert to Islam and are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ
2007 A.D. – I visit the monastery while deployed with the U.S. Air Force
2014 A.D. – ISIS destroys the oldest monastery in Iraq
G.I.’s in Iraq Hope to Heal Sacred Walls
ISIS Has Destroyed One of Iraq’s Oldest Christian Sites
Iraq’s Christians: Eighty Percent Have “Disappeared”
As Christians Flee, Governments Pressured To Declare ISIS Guilty Of Genocide