The Dark Ages – New and Old

It has been so difficult, hearing about the difficulties that Yasidis and Christians are facing in Iraq at the moment – the deaths of so many under persecution. Churches around the world are uniting in prayer for peace and for restoration, deeply concerned for those families affected by persecution. It also seems as though the Christian faith is in retreat, no longer present in cities controlled by IS (Islamic State).

Daily prayer for my wife Jo and I has recently been based on the Northumbrian Office ‘Celtic Daily Prayer’. During August we have been thinking about St. Columba and his ministry on Iona and to the Picts across Scotland.

A sentence written by Fiona Macleod which appeared as part of the reflection for 11th August struck me as significant:

“In this little island (Iona) a lamp was lit whose flame lighted pagan Europe.”

Like so many of us, I have been struggling with what has been happening to all minorities in the areas of Iraq controlled by IS and perhaps most of all to the large numbers of Christians who have had to leave their homes and who cannot see anyway open to them of returning. All they can see now is a hostile Sunni Muslim population around them in the places they called home, rather than neighbours with whom, until recently, they happily shared their lives. These Christian people have been part of faith communities that have been in cities in Northern Iraq since before Islam was founded.

I have been wondering this week whether this experience is in fact similar to that of many different peoples, Christian or not, over the centuries. Hearing Fiona Macleod’s words left me thinking of Europe at the end of the Roman Era. As Roman civilisation was pushed out of the countries of Northern Europe including England, the Christian faith also retreated. The land was taken by groups of people, probably our forebears, whose faith was pagan. In our islands, Christianity retreated to the fringes of Wales and Ireland; and during the Dark Ages, Christian faith was kept alive by small communities around the Western Coast.

If people had been able, in those days, to see what was happening across Europe. It would have seemed to be all encompassing. The Christian faith was pushed out and remained invisible, or non-existent, for generations. Over time, faithful missionaries, at first from Ireland, began once again to share the faith with those in England and across northern Europe. St. Columba was one, and he founded Iona. As time passed, other Celtic Saints travelling out from Iona, drew many back to faith in Christ as they traversed the land setting up small monastic houses.

As the light of Christ seems to be going out in significant parts of Iraq at the moment, and as increased secularism dominates in many countries of the West, where is the light of Christ being faithful kept alive in the world today? What different forms does that Christian faith take? Where will those new Christian missionaries come from?

We have to believe that this is in God’s hands. Much as we in England and Scotland saw revival first through Celtic missionaries before Augustine’s own mission in the south took root, so we can trust that God will prepare messengers of the Gospel for the future. They will be messengers who will once again bring the light of Christ into lands where that light seems only to flicker feebly or indeed even to have been extinguished.

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