Feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross
 By Naima S. Panow, MD, FRCS

Christians at "Feast of Exaltation of Holy Cross" in Mosel, Iraq

The Christianity started in Iraq in the year 33 after Christ. There was only one mother church which was called the Catholic church. After the division of the mother church, some continue to support the Patriarch of Constantinople- The Orthodox. The Catholic followed Rome.
The Monastery of Sheik Matti or Mar Matti, kept under the control of the Orthodox part of the Christianity. The Monastery is located out side Mosel in the north of Iraq. Mosel used to be called Nineveh.
This Monastery was kept intact for hundred of years. It was never attacked or destroyed by the Mongol, the Ottoman empire until the Iraq-Iran war. It was partially  damaged. The priest continue to live in the Monastery.
After Iraq_ Iran war, the President of Iraq at that time, Saddam Hussein was close to the Christians in Iraq. He ordered his government to protect and support all Christians, protect their churches and repair the one was damaged due to the war.
The picture you look at, differ completely from the one I visited in 1972. There was no yard or even steps to arrive to the Monastery except by walking up.
Since the US war on Iraq in 2003, the Christians suffered a lot. Their churches were bombed, their convents were bombed and every Monastery was bombed. 35 Catholic and orthodox churches were bombed by the US during this war. What is left of the Catholic and Orthodox churches were burned and destroyed by the Moslem Militant. They claimed all Christians are pro west.
3500 Christian families left Mosel (Nineveh) in the month of September 2008. The families who were not able to leave their homes, stayed and prayed for peace. The US refused to help them, the Iraqi government and the other Moslem countries in the Middle East kept silent.
The Patriarch Orthodox church of Syria and the Middle East wrote a letter to the President of Iraq and the PM Norri Al Maleky claiming him the blood shed of the innocent Iraqi Christians. The Militant Moslem forced the Christians to leave their homes and what ever they have should leave Mosel as soon as possible.
The Christians left their homes in other parts of Iraq and went to live in Mosel. Now they are asked to leave Mosel, other wise they would be killed. The US news already talked about this and in one week more than 14 Christians were killed. 23 Priests were kidnapped, three priests were killed, a Bishop was killed in Mosel, but no one tried to help them. The US Government or the Iraqi government never tried to protect the Christians. The Holy Father asked the UN, the US, UK to protect the Christians.  
One little child was kidnapped by the militant and asked for ransom. The family managed to pay the money. The militant sent the child head on a large platter of rice. The Archbishop of Baghdad talked about this in California when he came for help.
The Iraqi and other Middle East countries always celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September fourteen of each year.
This feast is very important for the Christians in the Middle East.
When I was a child my sister and brother used to collect small pieces of wood, dried bushes and branches to be burned on 9/14 in front
of the house. That day every Christian house had a bonfire in front of their home.  The churches would celebrate that day by burning the collected dried wood and bushes to celebrate the day when the Christians returned the cross back from the Persian Empire.
The Moslems used to come and celebrate with us. They believed in Jesus and Mary as much as we do. In Basra where my family lived surrounded by Shiite and Sunni and Christians, that night was celebrated by all. Children, adults and old used to surround the fire. Many used to jump on the fire and other wait until the flam was gone then jump. They used to say, jump from the dark to the bright light.
Since this war, the Christians suffered. The Patriarch of the Orthodox church asked the Christians in Mosel to celebrate that day in the Monastery where the Christianity started 33 years after Christ. Catholic and Orthodox could not celebrate that day in Mosel, they came to the Monastery in hundreds, old and young. Many brought with them their bundle of wood to add it to the one already prepared by the priests and the Novices living in the Monastery.  
They collected the bundle of wood in the yard of the Monastery. As soon as the Christians parked their cars at the bottom of the mountain, they start walking up. The Bishop and the priests with their deacons went down to meet them. They blessed them and walked in front of the faithful to chant and sing for the Lord. They arrived to the Monastery and prayed inside the church. The Orthodox youth band entered the Monastery with their drums and horns. The female choir was there to sing for that special feast.
By night they went out set the fire in the bundle of wood out side the yard. Many stayed in the Monastery over night. They celebrated the mass inside the church before leaving to their homes in Mosel.  
A priest in Lebanon said, "The Roman Empire tried to destroyed the Christianity, they lost. The Mongol did that, they did not succeed. The Moslem and the Ottoman Empire could not destroyed the Christianity. Now the West is trying, but the Christianity would survive.
Christ told Peter, You are the Rock and on you I build my church. All the fire in hell cannot destroy it."
Who ever believe in God should know that.
Naima S. Panow