They’ve stopped saying mass in the church due to the security situation in the area. There’s a police checkpoint at the foot of the mountain, intended to prevent further looting.
This part of Iraq is predominantly Christian, a throwback to the time when Christians were the majority in the entire Middle East. Muslims resent that, resent the reminder that their faith is new to this land and that even through force they have no managed to get rid of the Christian community entirely, though the number of Christians continues to dwindle.
News stories last month revealed that Iraq’s oldest monastery, St. Elijah’s had been destroyed by ISIS. Rabban Hormizd is almost as old, and from it you can see the spot where ISIS advance was halted in 2014.
The 7th century monastery of Rabban Hormizd, built about a half century after St. Elijah’s, was abandoned in the 18th century but revived early in the 19th before being abandoned again a half century later a the monks moved to a new, safer location down the road. Plans this century to renovate and restore have been put on hold due to ISIS.
There’s a staircase leading up the side of the mountain from the main area to the caves. Forty steps, representing the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness. It’s a subtle reminder that this is a place of prayer and has been for 1400 years.
The Muslim lands of the Middle East are full of places such as Rabban Hormizd, places that are an inconvenient truth to groups such as ISIS. People have been trying to wipe out Christianity since Golgotha. You’d think by now they would realize it isn’t going to happen.